Kansas Supreme Court Rules Personal Injury Lawsuit Damage Caps Unconstitutional
In a tremendous victory for consumers, The Kansas Supreme Court decided in a 4-2 ruling that it is unconstitutional to place maximums on the noneconomic damages a plaintiff can recover in a personal injury lawsuit.
The damage caps were initially passed by the Kansas Legislature in the 1980s at the request of insurance companies who sought to limit their liability. The legislature placed a cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury lawsuits limiting the amount a person could get for damages such pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and disfigurement. The caps limited an injury victim’s right to recover truly just compensation, as the predetermined amounts do not account for the distinctive devastation and pain that is unique to each individual case. With maximums in place, a person who sustained a catastrophic, life-altering injury such as paralysis or third degree burns could potentially recover the same amount of compensation as someone whose injuries were addressed with a single surgery.
The Kansas Supreme Court declared the caps unconstitutional, ruling that caps limit the injured party’s right to have a jury of their peers evaluate the evidence and damages. The Kansas Supreme Court, in their decision, also referenced the intangible nature of determining just compensation for noneconomic damages. Juries now hold the responsibility of assigning an award to each individual case, something that cannot be decided by the Legislature in advance.
The debate of whether or not to keep the caps was brought to the court via an appeal of a case involving the victim of a 2010 truck accident. In the case of Diana K. Hilburn v. Enerpipe, Ltd., the plaintiff was driving with her husband when they were rear-ended by a semi-truck, nine days after Hilburn had back surgery. The impact of the collision disrupted the medical devices that were inserted during her surgery. As a result, she suffered from pain and muscle spasms, and had to return for a second surgery in an attempt to correct the damage that occurred in the accident. Post-surgery, the victim needed on going medical care and medication to address chronic pain.
Hilburn was awarded “$33,490 for medical expenses and $301,509 for noneconomic losses,” reports the Associated Press. Although the jury awarded her over $300,000 to account for the long-term harm caused by the collision, noneconomic damages for the plaintiff were capped. The maximum amount of noneconomic damages permitted by law was $250,000 when the plaintiff’s truck accident case was in trial.
Insurance companies are expected to protest the ruling on damage caps, and are already lobbying state lawmakers to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision.
It is important to note that the decision does not apply to wrongful death lawsuits or punitive damages, but is expected to include medical malpractice suits as well as general personal injury cases. Despite the opposition, the decision is a victory for the people of Kansas — every person deserves their right to a fair trial, and the right to receive just compensation following an injury.
If you were injured because of someone else’s negligent actions, contact Cullan & Cullan for a free case evaluation. Send us a message or call (816) 253-8606 to speak with our attorneys.