The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled in Hilbern v. Enerpipe Ltd. that limiting noneconomic damages (also known as damages for pain and suffering), in personal injury lawsuits was unconstitutional and violated a plaintiff’s right to a jury trial because it “intrudes upon the jury’s determination of the compensation owed personal injury plaintiffs to redress their injuries.”
Previously in Kansas there was a cap on noneconomic damages in a medical malpractice case of $250,000 pursuant to K.S. A 60-19a02. In the Hilbern case the Plaintiff’s car was hit by a semi-truck. The owner of the semi-truck admitted the drivers’ negligence and conceded it’s vicarious liability.
The Kansas Constitution preserves the right of a trial by jury. The Court in Hilbern v. Enerpipe Ltd. found that this is a “fundamental interest” and this did not apply a presumption of constitutionality regarding this limit on damages.
The Court in Hilbern v. Enerpipe Ltd. found that the statute necessarily infringes on the constitutional right. However, the Court held that the prior test used to analyze whether the noneconomic damages cap is unconstitutional should be abandoned. The court then found that the cap imposed on damages in K.S. A 60-19a02 is facially unconstitutional because it violates the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights.
Due to this decision, plaintiffs will now be able to recover more than the prior $325,000 limit for noneconomic damages. Kansas juries are generally quite conservative when awarding damages in personal injury cases, so the loss of the cap may not affect matters involving less severe injuries. Cases involving very serious and painful physical and emotional injuries, as well as long-term future pain and suffering will be most at risk of having higher damages amounts.
The full impact of this ruling will be determined as cases are decided by juries. Medical malpractice insurers and other types of insurance companies may raise their rates to compensate for this increased exposure.
This decision significantly alters damage caps that have been in existence for decades. Companies involved in trucking, medical, and other businesses exposed to personal injury risk should contact their attorney to explore ways to limit exposure and assess the business’s risks. For questions, contact an attorney at Goosmann's Omaha, Sioux City, or Sioux Falls office today.
Angela Madathil is a Business, M&A, and Deal Attorney and provides legal assistance to buyers and sellers of businesses, as well as business brokers in Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas. This can involve contract review and negotiation, due diligence assistance, and post-sale integration. The Goosmann Law Firm team advises to buyers and sellers of businesses, as well as business brokers throughout the Midwest and has attorneys licensed in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and other states.
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