Amendments to Social Security Act in 2000 Do Not Trump Kansas Offset Statute

Overruling Dickens v. Pizza Co., Inc., 266 Kan. 1066, 1071, 974 P.2d 601 (1999), which had adopted an exception to the general rule allowing reduction in workers’ compensation benefits where an employee also received social security benefits, the Supreme Court of Kansas held that K.S.A. 2010 Supp. 44–501(h) unambiguously provides that workers compensation is subject to offset when the injured worker is simultaneously receiving social security retirement benefits [Hoesli v. Triplett, Inc., 2015 Kan. LEXIS 931 (Nov. 20, 2015)]. Accordingly, a lower appellate court erred when followed an exception carved out in Dickens and its progeny based upon a belief that the offset’s purpose was to prevent duplicative wage-loss benefits and that workers compensation was not duplicative when an injured worker’s wages were in addition to social security benefits already being received.

Statute Was Clear: All Comp Payments Are to Be Offset

All that might be true from a policy standpoint, said the Court, but the Court of Appeals erred when it ignored the plain language of the statute. The statute’s clearly expressed meaning was to offset all workers compensation payments by the amount of social security retirement benefits the claimant received.

Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000

The Court also acknowledged amendments to the Social Security Act in 2000 [Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000, Pul. L. 106–182; 42 U.S.C. §§ 402–403 (2012)], but held that social security retirement benefits under the Social Security Act did not lose their essential character as benefits to protect recipients from the loss of wages due to advanced age simply because the 2000 amendments permitted those who qualified for the benefits on account of age to receive them, in full, while still earning wage income. The purpose of K.S.A. 2010 Supp. 44–501(h) was to avoid duplication of wage-loss benefits, and because the social security retirement offset furthers that purpose, the statute satisfied the rational basis test. It did not violate equal protection simply because its reach was, in some cases, greater than the purpose served.

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