July 11, 2012 Kansas Workers Compensation Law Update.

1.  Final Results Of The 2012 Kansas Legislative Session.

The final results of the 2012 Kansas legislative session were no substantive or significant changes to the Kansas Workers Compensation Act.  Our 2011 pro-employer reform laws remain in place and are starting to take hold with great results for employers.

2.  Summary Of A Few Of The Significant 2011 Pro-Employer Kansas WC Law Reforms:

A) To be a compensable work accident, there must be an undesigned, sudden and unexpected traumatic event, identifiable by time, and place of occurrance, and must produce at the time of accident, symptoms of injury and must occur on a single work shift.

B) To be compensable, the work accident must be the prevailing factor cause of: a) the injury; b) the need for treatment; AND c) the resulting impairment or disability. If the accident causation proof fails in any of these three elements, the accident is deemed to "not arise out of employment."

C) The "simple aggravation of a preexisting condition" rule which previouly resulted in Kansas employers paying tens of millions of dollars in benefits and treatment for preexisting conditions, is gone.  In its place is a higher standard of injury and causation claimants must prove to establish a compensable personal injury by accident on the job.

D) "Arising out of and in the course of" employment does NOT include: a) injury by natural aging process or activities of day-to-day living; b) neutral risks; c) personal risks; d) accidents or injuries arising either directly or indirectly from idiopathic causes.

E) All compensation is disallowed in the case where the injury results from the employee's "reckless" (lower standard than "willful") disregard of an employer safety rule or regulation.

F) For the accidental injury to "arise out of" employment, the claimant must prove a causal connection between the "conditions under which the work is required to be performed" AND the work accident.

 3.  More Good News For Employers On Appeals Board Decisions Interpreting And Applying The New 2011 Pro-Employer Workers Compensation Law Reforms.

PREVAILING FACTOR CAUSE DEFENSE

In Shepard v. Big Lakes Development Center, Inc. Docket No. 1,058,184, (April 2012), the Kansas Workers Compensation Appeals Board reversed an administrative law judge preliminary hearing order awarding benefits on the prevailing factor cause defense.

While the Appeals Board acknowledged Shepard proved a work accident occurred on July 22, 2011, and she presented medical causation opinions from two separate doctors, the Board held that claimant failed to meet her burden of proof under the new prevailing factor cause requirement that her work accident resulted in her current need for medical treatment.

The key to the Board's denial of benefits in this case was that Board found that even though claimant procured two favorable expert opinions that the work accident was the prevailing factor cause of the injury and need for treatment, those experts had not been provided the full relevant medical histories of the claimant.  As such, those pro-claimant causation opinions were flawed and unreliable.  If fact, claimant Shepard had a long history of prior low back and knee problems and those facts were not provided to the doctors who provided claimant favorable causation opinions.

The refreshing take away from this favorable "new law" Appeals Board decision is that the intent of the new law reforms is in fact being enforced and carried out by the Appeals Board.  The new law reforms did away with the old law "simple aggravation of a preexisting condition" rule, that cost Kansas employers untold enormous sums of money in compensating workers for preexisting conditions which were not work injury related.

The Appeals Board Member writing the Shepard decision explicitly pointed this out in the following passage:  "The new law, placed into effect on May 15, 2011, requires additional elements of proof from a claimant.  No longer is the simple aggravation, acceleration or exacerbation of a preexisting condition sufficient."

This case points out to claimant attorneys in Kansas that they would be wise to do their due diligence regarding medical history discovery on their client prior to procuring medical expert causation opinions, to get their experts the full and complete medical histories of their clients.  This would allow that any pro-claimant expert opinions generated, can be relied on in court by the Judge.  The obvious question is why wouldn't this be standard operating procedure in the first place?

The flip side of that coin for employers, carriers and TPA's in Kansas is that it is now essential that they spend the money and time in the defense of a workers compensation claim to discover and procure all relevant medical history information concerning a claimant.  This case proves that such efforts can result in a total claim denial thereby saving significant workers compensation costs.

By Kim R. Martens of Hite, Fanning & Honeyman L.L.P.  www.hitefanning.com