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AG Derek Schmidt: Kansas Supreme Court upholds workers’ compensation law, prerogative of state to adopt newer evaluation guidelines

Release Date: Jan 08, 2021

TOPEKA - (January 8, 2021) – The Kansas Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of an amendment to the Kansas Workers Compensation Act that adopted more recent guidelines for assessing medical impairment, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt said.

"Our position has been that the Legislature had authority to update the law as it did," said Schmidt, whose office successfully defended the statute after intervening in the case to request the Kansas Supreme Court's review. "Today the Supreme Court agreed. We have successfully defended this duly enacted state law."

The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday unanimously reversed the Court of Appeals' 2018 ruling that had found the updated law unconstitutional. In today's opinion, the court ruled that the law does not violate Section 18 of the Kansas Bill of Rights because the use of medical evaluation guidelines only serves as a base for determining compensation, while the law still requires “competent medical evidence.”

In 2013, the Legislature amended the Kansas Workers Compensation Act to require use of the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment to rate the impairment of injuries sustained after January 1, 2015.  The Kansas Court of Appeals in 2018 had struck down that amendment as unconstitutional, instead requiring that the Fourth Edition of the AMA Guides, which was in place under the law prior to the 2013 change, be reinstated going forward.

The Kansas Supreme Court today reversed the Court of Appeals and upheld the updated statute.

“The 2013 amendments merely reflect an update to the most recent set of guidelines—which serve as a starting point for any medical opinion,” Justice Caleb Stegall wrote for the court. “Aside from an updated starting point, the legal substance of K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 44- 510e(a)(2)(B) remains the same as it has been. Given this, the challenge under section 18 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights necessarily fails.”

A copy of the ruling in Johnson v. U.S. Food Service can be found at https://bit.ly/3s9P3y0.

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