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Kansas high court rules for employer in AMA ratings dispute

Kansas capitol

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in favor of a food distributor in a long-standing fight over which version of the American Medical Association’s guidelines should be used for assigning worker impairment ratings.

In Johnson v. U.S. Food Service, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday reversed an appellate court decision, ruling that 2013 state reforms that require workers who suffered an injury on or after Jan. 1, 2015, to be assessed based on the Sixth Edition of the AMA guidelines are constitutional

Howard Johnson III worked for U.S. Food Service and injured his spine when he tried to open a door on a trailer that had been frozen shut. He received workers compensation and was diagnosed with herniated discs and underwent surgery. 

Mr. Johnson received $15,500 temporary total disability compensation from October 2015 to April 2016.  He returned to work with modifications and achieved maximum medical improvement in July 2016. His physician rated him as 6% permanently partially impaired using the Sixth Edition of the AMA guidelines that had been adopted by the Kansas Workers Compensation Act.

Mr. Johnson appealed the rating, arguing that using the Sixth Edition was unconstitutional because it resulted in a lower impairment rating and therefore deprived workers of their right to a remedy. Had he been assessed using the older Fourth Edition, which was in place before the 2013 amendment, his impairment rating would have been 19 percentage points higher, he argued.

An appellate court agreed with Mr. Johnson, holding that with "the adoption of the Sixth Edition of the AMA Guides, the Act has been emasculated to the point that it is no longer an adequate quid pro quo for injured workers who suffer a permanent impairment as a result of an injury occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2015.”

The Kansas Supreme Court reversed the appellate court decision, ruling that the Sixth Edition could reasonably be interpreted as a guideline rather than a state mandate and was constitutional under state statutes.



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