Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kansas Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the determination of the Workers Compensation Board that clear and convincing evidence showed that an employee's impairment caused by marijuana consumption did not contribute to the employee's workplace accident, holding that sufficient evidence supported the Board's finding that it was "highly probable" that the employee's impairment did not contribute to his accident.Gary Woessner died after falling fifteen feet from a jobsite catwalk for an unexplained reason. Gary's employer, Labor Max Staffing, paid workers compensation benefits for his temporary total disability and for his treatment and care, but after he died, Labor Max stopped paying not he workers compensation claim. Carmen Woessner, Gary's widow, sought benefits. An administrative law judge ruled that Gary's injuries were not compensable because Carmen failed to demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that Gary's impairment caused by marijuana use did not contribute to his accident, injury, and death. The Board concluded that Gary's injuries were compensable and awarded the benefits, finding that, even if Gary was impaired, the impairment did not contribute to his accident. The Supreme Court affirmed the Board, holding that the drug test results were admissible and that the conclusively presumed impairment did not contribute to Gary's accident. View "Woessner v. Labor Max Staffing" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the application of the statutory scheme permitting an employer that has provided workers compensation benefits to an injured employee to obtain both a subrogation interest in any recovery the employee receives from a third party and a credit for future benefits, the Supreme Court held that the Workers Compensation Board used the improper method for determining the subrogation lien and the future credit.In Employee's third party negligence action, the jury decided both the fault of Employer and the measure of Employee's damages from his workplace injury. The Board applied the jury's finding of fault to Employee's settlement with one of several defendants in his negligence action to compute the reduction in Employer's subrogation lien and future credit for workers compensation benefits it provided or will provide to Employee. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) consistent with Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-504(b), Employer's credit for future benefits should have been determined using each annual settlement payment to Employee from one of the third-party defendants when the payment was received; and (2) the Board erred in aggregating those payments and relying on the total amount when Employee would not receive the last installment for twenty years. View "Hawkins v. Southwest Kansas Co-op Service" on Justia Law

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In this fee dispute between a hospital that provided medical services to an injured worker and a workers compensation carrier that paid the hospital less than the billed amount for those services the Supreme Court reversed the opinion of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the Workers Compensation Appeals Board upholding a hearing officer's ruling in favor of the carrier, holding that the relief sought by the hospital and ordered by the court of appeals could not be granted in this proceeding.In ruling in favor of the carrier, the hearing officer held that the carrier had appropriately paid the amount required by the schedule for maximum medical fees established by the director of the Division of Workers Compensation. The Board affirmed. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the Board's enforcement of the maximum medical fee schedule was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable because the applicable fee limiting provision had been accidentally created. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the issue of the rulemaking by the director, and the results of any accidental rulemaking, were not properly before the Board; and (2) the Board's refusal to expand the parameters of the fee dispute statute was not unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious. View "Via Christi Hospitals Wichita, Inc. v. Kan-Pak, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment for Defendants and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint alleging that his transfer was retaliatory, holding that the common-law tort of retaliation may be premised on an employer's action short of dismissal or demotion.Plaintiff, a Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) trooper, alleged that the KHP retaliated by requiring him to move across the state to keep his job after the Kansas Civil Service Board ordered the agency to reinstate him to work. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The court of appeals affirmed, although the lower courts disagreed as to inquiries at issue on this appeal. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded the case, holding (1) common-law retaliation may be premised on the involuntary job relocation alleged in this case; (2) sovereign immunity did not bar Plaintiff's claim; but (3) there were genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. View "Hill v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the Kansas Workers Compensation Board (Board) affirming an ALJ's denial of Helen Knoll's application for hearing with the Kansas Division of Workers Compensation (Division), holding that Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-523(f)(1) controlled Knoll's claim and required its dismissal.More than five years after Knoll filed her application with the Division, Employer moved to have Knoll's claim dismissed under section 44-523(f)(1) because the claim had not proceeded to a final hearing within three years of the filing of an application for hearing. The ALJ concluded that Knoll's motion for extension was timely and entered an award of compensation. The Board affirmed the ALJ's denial of the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that dismissal was appropriate because Knoll did not file a motion for extension within three years of filing her application for hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) if a workers compensation claimant filed an application for hearing under Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-534 after Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-523(f)(1) took effect in 2011, the 2011 statute governs the claim; and (2) because Knoll filed her application for hearing six months after the 2011 amendments became effective, section 44-523(f)(1) controlled her claim. View "Knoll v. Olathe School District No. 233" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the Court of Appeals and the Kansas Board of Workers Compensation concluding that Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-523(f)(1) unambiguously requires a claimant to move for extension within three years of filing an application for hearing for the claim to survive a proper motion to dismiss, holding that the statute unambiguously prohibits an ALJ from granting an extension unless a motion for extension has been filed within three years of filing the application for hearing.Appellant filed an application for hearing with the Kansas Division of Workers Compensation asserting that he fell and injured himself while working for Employer. Approximately three years later, Employer filed an application for dismissal, arguing that the ALJ should dismiss Appellant's claim under section 44-523(f) because Appellant had failed to move the claim toward a hearing or settlement within three years of filing his application for hearing. The ALJ granted Employer's application to dismiss. The Board and Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Court of Appeals' interpretation of the statute was correct. View "Glaze v. J.K. Willliams, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this appeal concerning the statutory definition of "idiopathic causes" contained in the statute excluding benefits for certain accidents or injuries the Supreme Court held that the Workers Compensation Appeals Board improperly denied benefits to Terrill Graber, who was injured when he fell down a workplace stairway, holding that there was not substantial competent evidence to support the Board's finding that the accident or injury arose directly or indirectly from an idiopathic cause under the statutory exclusion.There was no evidence presented in this case showing why Graber fell down the workplace stairway. The Board construed the term "idiopathic causes" in Kan. Stat. Ann. 44-508(f)(3)(A)(iv) broadly to cover all unknown causes and denied compensation. The court of appeals reversed after defining the term more narrowly. The Supreme Court affirmed and remanded the case to the Board for reconsideration consistent with this opinion, holding that the term "idiopathic causes" in this context means medical conditions or medical events of unknown origin that are peculiar to the injured individual. View "Estate of Graber v. Dillon Companies" on Justia Law

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In this employment case arising out of the sale of a cattle feedlot the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing summary judgment on Plaintiff's implied-in-fact employment contract claim and Plaintiff's claim for promissory estoppel, holding that a genuine issue of material fact existed preventing summary judgment.Plaintiff moved his employment from the old owner of the feedlot to the new owner, Defendant. Because of operational changes, Defendant later terminated Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff then sued Defendant alleging breach of an employment contract, or in the alternative, detrimental reliance and estoppel. The district court concluded that Plaintiff was Defendant's employee at will, and therefore, Defendant could terminate Plaintiff's employment at any time without cause. The court of appeals reversed, holding that whether Plaintiff's employment was at will - or protected by an implied-in-fact contract - was a disputed question of fact. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) whether a meeting of minds existed between the parties on an implied-in-fact employment contract presented a genuine issue of material fact precluding summary judgment; and (2) therefore, summary judgment should not have been granted for Defendant on Plaintiff's promissory estoppel claim. View "Peters v. Deseret Cattle Feeders, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals vacating the jury verdict in favor of Charles Dawson as to his claim that the negligence of his employer, BNSF Railway Company, caused his back injuries, holding that reasonable minds could reach different conclusions as to whether Dawson’s claim was timely.In 1979, Dawson began his employment with BNSF as a switchman and brakeman and later worked as a conductor. In 2008, Dawson began experiencing back pain. In 2011, Dawson filed this action against BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) alleging that BNSF’s negligence led to his injuries. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Dawson. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the district court erred when it denied BNSF’s motion for judgment as a matter of law because Dawson’s cumulative claim was time barred and that Dawson’s acute injury claims were time barred. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the district court, holding that the district court did not err when it submitted the statute of limitations question to the jury. View "Dawson v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff’s action brought under the Kansas Judicial Review Act (KJRA) based upon the decision of the University of Kansas to deny Plaintiff promotion and tenure, holding that the University’s decision was supported by substantial evidence.The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s action for lack of prosecution. Plaintiff refiled within six months, relying on the savings statute, Kan. Stat. Ann. 60-518, to make her action timely. The district court ruled against Plaintiff on the merits of her challenge to the University’s decision. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded to the University to begin the promotion and tenure consideration process anew. The University appealed, arguing that section 6-518 should not have been applied and that the decision to deny Plaintiff promotion and tenure was supported by substantial evidence. The Supreme Court held (1) the savings statute applied to make Plaintiff’s KJRA action timely; but (2) the University’s decision was supported by substantial evidence under Kan. Stat. Ann. 77-621(c)(7). View "Harsay v. University of Kansas" on Justia Law