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Kansas Supreme Court Clarifies Standard for Determining if an Injury Arose "Out of and in the Course of Employment", for Purposes of Workers Compensation Benefit

ABSTRACT: The Kansas Supreme Court has recently clarified the legal standard for determining if an employee injury at a company-sponsored social event arose "out of and in the course of employment", thus making the employee eligible to receive Workers Compensation benefits.

In Douglas v. Ad Astra Info. Sys., 293 P.3d 723 (Kan. 2013), Danny Douglas was awarded benefits under the Workers Compensation Act for an injury he sustained while operating a go-cart at an event sponsored by his employer, Ad Astra Information Systems, L.L.C. The Workers Compensation Board granted benefits to Douglas, and his employer and its insurer appealed, arguing that Douglas’s injury was sustained during a recreational or social event that he was not required to attend, and that he was therefore not entitled to benefits.

The Court of Appeals upheld the award of benefits, citing to factors set forth in a well-known treatise (Larson’s Workers’ Compensation Law), for determining whether the injury arose out of and in the course of employment.   The Kansas Supreme Court reversed and directed the Board to review the facts and reconsider its decision based upon the factors that really count: those contained in the statute. The Supreme Court ruled that the language of the statute setting forth criteria for making this type of determination was plain and unambiguous, and that the court below erred in applying the factors set forth in Larson. “A legal treatise may be utilized to explain and interpret Kansas law, but it cannot serve to supplant or alter the actual text of a statute.” 

The Court ruled that K.S.A. 2006 Supp. 44-508(f) sets forth the circumstances in which an employee injury sustained during a recreational or social event will be held not to “arise out of and in the course of employment”.  An employee's injuries will be excluded from coverage under the Workers Compensation Act where either (1) the employee was under no duty to attend the recreational or social event, or (2) the injury resulted neither from the performance of tasks related to the employee's normal job duties nor from performing tasks that he was specifically instructed to perform by his employer.