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Stephen v. Phillips County

January 18, 2008

LEROY M. STEPHEN, APPELLEE,
v.
PHILLIPS COUNTY, AND KANSAS WORKERS RISK COOPERATIVES FOR COUNTIES, APPELLANTS.



Appeal from Workers Compensation Board.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. K.S.A. 44-510e(a) provides that a permanent partial general disability award may be calculated either based on a statutorily defined work disability or based on overall functional impairment calculated according to the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The employee receives the greater of these two awards unless he or she is working and earns at least 90% of the pre-injury wage; in that case, the employee receives only the functional-impairment award for as long as he or she is earning at least 90% of the pre-injury wage.

2. The work-disability award provides partial compensation for post-injury wage loss. Even if that wage loss is increased because the employee loses his or her pre-injury job, there is no statutory requirement that the job loss be caused by the injury.

3. On the facts of this case, an elected official who was injured on the job and then lost his job through an election defeat is entitled to a work-disability award when his post-injury wages were substantially less than his pre-injury wages. There is no requirement that the claimant show that his election defeat was caused by his injury.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leben, J.

Affirmed.

Before CAPLINGER, P.J., ELLIOTT and LEBEN, JJ.

Less than 6 months before the 2004 election, Phillips County Sheriff Leroy Stephen was injured while trying to handcuff an unruly prisoner. After the injury, he was off work for nearly 2 months. When he returned to work, his doctors directed that he lift no more than 10 pounds and avoid stooping, bending, or twisting. While operating under those restrictions, he lost the primary election in August. In October 2004, the work restriction was expanded to allow him to lift up to 30 pounds. While operating under the revised work restrictions, he lost a write-in campaign in the November general election.

No one can say whether Stephen lost his job because of the injury--voters are not required to explain their votes. But Sheriff Stephen was an employee covered by the Kansas Workers Compensation Act, and he sought and obtained a permanent partial disability award that included an amount partially compensating him for his wage loss after he lost his job. Phillips County argues that because there is no proof that Stephen lost his job as a result of his injury, he should not be allowed to recover any amount compensating for wage loss after his term as sheriff ended. In prior cases, most recently Roskilly v. Boeing Co., 34 Kan. App. 2d 196, 116 P.3d 38 (2005), we have affirmed the award of such benefits to an employee whose layoff was for economic reasons unrelated to the employee's injury. We find no reason to apply a different rule to an employee who lost his job due to an election defeat, and we affirm the Workers Compensation Board's award of benefits to Stephen.

A. Putting Our Issue in the Context of Workers Compensation Law

As we have noted and will discuss in more detail soon, prior cases share some similarities to this one. The main task before us in this case is to determine whether these prior cases control the result here.

First-year law students learn that the law develops in large part by analogy. A court decides that a case involving facts A and B comes out a certain way. When the next case involves facts A, B, and C, the court must decide whether the same result still applies or whether fact C has fundamentally altered the landscape so that a different result is called for. Although this form of caselaw development arose under the common law--where there is no benefit of statutory guidance--it also applies in statutory interpretation, albeit with an emphasis on the statutory language as the preeminent guidepost. So if a statute has been applied a certain way when facts A and B are present, the court ordinarily will apply it that same way when facts A, B, and C are present unless fact C calls for a different application under the statutory language.

To determine whether the Roskilly rule applies here, we must first review some of the basics of workers compensation benefits. Some injuries are listed on a schedule that determines the benefit paid--ranging from the loss of the use of a shoulder, which calls for 225 weeks of benefit payments, to the loss of use of the little finger, which calls for 15 weeks of benefit payments. When a Kansas worker has a lasting injury not listed on the schedule that causes partial disability, the Workers Compensation Act provides an award for "permanent partial general disability." That award may be calculated in two ways: (1) based on a statutorily defined work disability or (2) based on overall functional impairment calculated according to the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The employee receives the greater of these two awards unless he or she is working and earns at least 90% of the pre-injury wage; in that case, the employee receives only the functional-impairment award for "as long as" he or she is earning at least 90% of the pre-injury wage. K.S.A. 44-510e(a).

The work-disability calculation is itself based on two factors: (1) medical evidence of the employee's percentage loss of ability to perform work-related tasks and (2) the employee's actual wage loss (calculated as the percentage of pre-loss wages that the employee is now unable to earn). The calculated percentages for diminished ability to perform tasks and wage loss are ...


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