Kansas Supreme Court Strikes Down Cap on Pain and Suffering Damages
Since the mid-1980s Kansas has had a statutory cap on noneconomic damages.
Under state law, juries have been restricted in the amount of pain and suffering damages that they can award to plaintiffs in any given case. No longer. In Hilburn v. Enerpipe Ltd., the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the decades old law as a violation of the Kansas Constitution.
Truck Accident Victims Awarded Full Pain and Suffering Damages
The plaintiff in the underlying case — Diana Hilburn — was severely injured in a commercial truck accident that occurred in 2010. Upon hearing her case, a Kansas jury awarded her $335,000 in financial compensation — including for $301,509.14 for pain and suffering (noneconomic damages). This is important because, at the time the case was heard, Kansas law capped noneconomic damages at $250,000. As such, Ms. Hilburn’s award was immediately reduced by $51,509.14. She appealed the reduction and was denied. Eventually, her case made it all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court — which has now reinstated the original jury award.
Kansas Constitution: Right of Jury Trial is Fundamental
Writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Carol Beier noted that the right to a jury trial is fundamental in Kansas. Under the Bill of Rights contained within the Kansas Constitution, the right of a jury trial shall be “inviolate”. Justice Beier found that the pain and suffering damages cap has the effect of substituting the wisdom of the jury for the overly broad limitations set by state policymakers. As such, it cannot be allowed to stand. Notably, the dissent was penned by Justice Marla Luckert — who wrote that the court should have followed its 2012 decision and upheld the statutory cap on noneconomic damages.
A Game Changer for Injured Patients
While this decision is important for all plaintiffs in Kansas, it is a game changer for victims of medical malpractice. As described by the Wichita, KS medical malpractice attorneys at Wall Huntington, “The importance of this decision cannot be overstated. The Kansas Supreme Court has affirmed that injured victims have the right to seek financial compensation for the complete value of their damages — including for their pain and suffering. Many medical malpractice victims suffer noneconomic damages that are far in excess of the previous statutory limits.”