Kan. SC rules for workers comp claimant

Jessica M. Karmasek Aug. 17, 2011, 10:14am


TOPEKA, Kan. (Legal Newsline) - The Kansas Supreme Court last month ruled that a man who allegedly suffered a back injury on the job is entitled to workers compensation benefits.

The Court, in its July 29 opinion, reversed the decision of the state's Court of Appeals.

The claimant, James Bryant, appealed to the state's high court, asking it to affirm the administrative finding that he was entitled to the benefits and to reverse the appeals court's finding that his injuries were the result of normal, daily activities and therefore noncompensable.

The respondents, Midwest Staff Solutions Inc. and Lumberman's Underwriting Alliance, argued that Bryant's injuries did not arise out of and in the course of his employment, as required under the state's Workers Compensation Act.

First, the companies alleged Bryant failed to prove that the events of March 2, 2003 and May 13, 2003 constituted injuries, because he already suffered from back pain and the work incidents did not change his condition -- they simply intensified it.

Secondly, they argued that any injury Bryant sustained on the job was the result of the normal, day-to-day activities.

The first contention carries little force, Justice Eric S. Rosen wrote in the Court's 16-page opinion.

"The record contains credible testimony that the March 2, 2003 incident changed the physical structure of Bryant's body, causing damage or harm to it," Rosen wrote.

"Dr. Vito Carabetta, an independent medical examiner, testified that the incident was an instigating event that changed Bryant's relatively stable back condition, which was controlled by intermittent treatment, into a condition that required surgery. Dr. Theodore Sandow also testified that the work incidents were the triggering events that led Bryant to needing surgery in 2003."

Both doctors, the justice wrote, opined that Bryant suffered a 25 percent permanent partial functional impairment, of which only 10 percent preexisted the injury.

"Furthermore, Bryant himself testified that his pain had been intermittent before March 2, 2003, but was continuous afterwards," Rosen wrote.

As to the companies' second argument, the Court noted that twisting or bending over are daily activities for workers as well as nonworkers -- as are lifting objects, cutting pieces of meat, typing on keyboards and walking or standing for extended periods of time.

"The Court of Appeals' opinion in the present case tends to remove from the purview of workers compensation protection the many work-related ailments that follow from activities that may also be carried out away from the job," the Court wrote.

While no bright-line test for what constitutes a work injury is possible, the Court said the proper approach is to focus on whether the injury occurred as a consequence of the broad spectrum of life's ongoing daily activities, or as a consequence of an event or continuing events specific to the requirements of performing one's job.

"Bryant was not engaged in the normal activities of day-to-day living when he reached for his tool belt or when he bent down to carry out a welding task," it concluded.

The Court remanded the case to the appeals court to rule on the other issues originally raised on appeal, including the calculation of wages.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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