Appeal from Workers Compensation Board.
1. Statutory interpretation is an issue of law over which an appellate court exercises de novo review. However, the doctrine of operative construction requires the court to defer to the Workers Compensation Board's interpretation of the Workers Compensation Act if there is a rational basis for it. This is not to say that the Board's interpretation is conclusive. It is persuasive but not binding. If the Board's interpretation is erroneous as a matter of law, an appellate court will intervene to correct it. The party challenging the Board's interpretation bears the burden of proving its invalidity.
2. K.S.A. 44-501(c) is construed and applied. K.S.A. 44-501(c) permits an award to the extent a work-related injury causes increased disability to a pre-existing condition. However, the statute also requires any award to be reduced by the amount of any pre-existing functional impairment.
3. The offset provision of K.S.A. 44-501(h), which is designed to prevent wage-loss duplication, as discussed in McIntosh v. Sedgwick County, 282 Kan. 636, 147 P.3d 869 (2006), is contrasted with the provisions of K.S.A. 44-501(c).
4. Before 1993, a Kansas employer bore the risk of employing someone with a pre-existing disability. In 1993, K.S.A. 44-501(c) was amended. In general, the 1993 amendments were enacted to reduce the cost of workers compensation insurance premiums. K.S.A. 44-501(c) was one aspect of that effort. The Board's application of K.S.A. 44-501(c) to reduce a workers compensation award based on the claimant's pre-existing functional impairment is consistent with this legislative intent.
5. K.S.A. 44-510a applies to situations in which an employee has received compensation for a prior disability. A reduction in benefits is calculated according to the statute to prevent overlapping benefits, i.e., where benefits from the prior injury would otherwise continue after the later injury. On the other hand, K.S.A. 44-501(c) requires an award to be reduced by the amount of pre-existing functional impairment.
6. An appellate court exercises unlimited review in addressing a constitutional challenge to the application of K.S.A. 44-501(c) to a particular injured worker. In reviewing the statute, a court presumes that it is constitutional and resolves all doubts in favor of its validity. A court will construe a statute as constitutional if there is any reasonable way to do so. A claimed constitutional violation must be clear before a court will strike down the statute.
7. The rational basis test, which is part of an equal protection analysis, examines whether the legislature treats two indistinguishable classes of individuals differently. Under the rational basis test, a law is constitutional, despite some unequal classification of citizens, if the classification bears some reasonable relationship to a valid legislative objective.
8. If a remedy protected by due process is abrogated or restricted by the legislature, the change is constitutional if (1) the change is reasonably necessary in the public interest to promote the general welfare of the people of the state, and (2) the legislature provides an adequate substitute remedy to replace the remedy that has been restricted.
9. As applied to the facts of the case, K.S.A. 44-501(c) violates neither the constitutional requirement of equal protection nor the constitutional requirement of due process.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McANANY, J.
Before McANANY, P.J., CAPLINGER and BUSER, JJ.
In this case we are called upon to construe and to consider the constitutionality of statutory limits on workers compensation benefits received by an injured worker who ...