Appeal from Workers Compensation Board.
1. The interpretation of statutory provisions in the Workers Compensation Act, K.S.A. 44-501 et seq., is a question of law.
2. Under the doctrine of operative construction, the appellate court gives judicial deference to the Workers Compensation Board's interpretation of the Workers Compensation Act and generally upholds the Board's interpretation where a rational basis exists for its decision. However, the Board's determination on questions of law is not conclusive and, though persuasive, is not binding on the court. The party challenging the Board's interpretation bears the burden of proving its invalidity.
3. As a general rule, an appellate court construes statutes to avoid unreasonable results and presumes the legislature does not intend to enact useless or meaningless legislation.
4. Because K.S.A. 44-501(h) contains no penalty provision, it is not a penal statute and the general rules of statutory interpretation apply.
5. K.S.A. 44-501(h) allows employer contributions in private pension plans, paid to retired injured workers, to offset employer-funded workers compensation benefits paid to the same injured workers, so as to prevent duplication of wage-loss replacement.
6. The language in K.S.A. 44-501(h) referring to the reduction of workers compensation benefits by the "weekly equivalent amount of the total amount of all such retirement benefits" contemplates inclusion of all employer-funded retirement benefits in calculating the offset, including but not limited to lump sum and periodic payments.
7. Under the facts of this case, the application of a retirement benefits offset at the commencement of the claimant's permanent partial disability payments did not lower the claimant's award below his percentage of functional impairment in violation of K.S.A. 44-501(h) where the claimant would still receive benefits totaling in excess of the amount the functional impairment award would have been without the offset.
8. Under the facts of this case, in calculating the "weekly equivalent amount" of a claimant's retirement benefits under K.S.A. 44-501(h), the Workers Compensation Board did not err in utilizing the actual amount of the lump sum benefit received and dividing that amount by the claimant's life expectancy. The Board's methodology is consistent with the statute's direction to reduce the work disability benefit by the "weekly equivalent amount of the total amount of all such retirement benefits."
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Caplinger, J.
Before CAPLINGER, P.J., MALONE, J. and LARSON, S.J.
Harold Stanley Robinson appeals his workers compensation award, claiming the Workers Compensation Board (Board) erred in applying the retirement benefits offset of K.S.A. 44-501(h) to his lump sum retirement benefit. Robinson also claims the Board erred in applying the offset before he had received his entire functional impairment award. Southwestern Bell Telephone Company and its insurance carrier, Helmsman Management Services, Inc. (collectively SBT), cross appeal, contending the Board erred in calculating Robinson's retirement benefits offset based upon the amount of the lump sum payment he received, rather than the periodic payment Robinson could have received had he elected to receive monthly payments.
We affirm the Board's application of the retirement benefits offset to Robinson's lump sum payment based upon our finding that K.S.A. 44-501(h) requires the inclusion of all employer-funded retirement benefits when calculating the retirement benefits offset, including but not limited to lump sum and periodic retirement payments. Further, we affirm the Board's application of the retirement benefits offset at the commencement of Robinson's permanent partial disability payments and reject Robinson's suggestion that this application lowered his award below his percentage of functional impairment.
Finally, because we find a reasoned and rational basis exists to support the methodology used by the Board to calculate the retirement benefits offset, we reject SBT's cross-appeal.
Factual and Procedural Background
Robinson sustained a personal injury arising out of and in the course of his employment with SBT and was placed on long term disability on July 10, 1998. Approximately 1 year later, on July 18, 1999, Robinson retired. As part of his retirement package, Robinson was permitted to choose either a lump sum payment of $196,060.46 or a lifetime monthly payment of $1,240.55. Robinson chose the lump sum payment and rolled the payment into an individual retirement account (IRA).
The administrative law judge (ALJ) determined Robinson suffered a 34% whole body functional impairment and a 66.5% work disability. The ALJ calculated the retirement benefits offset required under K.S.A. 44-501(h) by dividing the amount of Robinson's lump sum retirement benefit ($196,060.46) by his projected life expectancy at the time he received the benefit in July 1999 (1,279.2 weeks), which resulted in a retirement benefits offset in the amount of $153.27 per week. However, the ALJ applied the offset only after Robinson received 52.29 weeks of temporary total disability at the unreduced rate of $366 per week ($19,138.14) followed by 128.42 weeks of permanent partial disability at the unreduced rate of ...