Damage Caps Eliminated for Kansas Injury Victims
For decades, we have represented clients with burns, loss of sight, or injuries that alter their quality of life, and the Kansas courts did not provide sufficient compensation for the loss. Many suits against nursing homes or product manufacturers could not be brought, for elderly clients or victims without economic loss. That has changed.
In a recent decision, the Kansas Supreme Court favored the rights of injury victims over insurance companies and negligent parties when the Court ruled that statutory caps on noneconomic damages were unconstitutional. While this decision is a major step for personal injury victims, we will be watching to see how the Kansas legislature responds to the ruling.
Hilburn v. Enerpipe, Ltd.
In 2010, Diana Hilburn was a passenger in a car rear-ended by a semi-truck owned by Enerpipe, Ltd. Enerpipe conceded the truck driver’s negligence and admitted liability, and a jury awarded Hilburn the following:
- $33,490 in economic damages
- $301,509 in noneconomic damages
The trial judge then reduced the noneconomic damages to $250,000 per the damage cap under Kansas law at that time (the cap had since increased). Hilburn appealed the decision, arguing that the damage cap was unconstitutional.
The case made it to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ultimately agreed with Hilburn. The Court held that the damage cap under the law violated an injury plaintiff’s right to a trial by jury, as a jury’s award might be significantly reduced in accordance with the cap. The decision effectively strikes down the noneconomic damage cap for injury cases, though it does not apply to punitive damages or wrongful death claims.
Noneconomic Damages for Injury Victims
Damages in personal injury cases are divided into categories. Economic damages cover monetary losses that you can document, including medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. On the other hand, noneconomic damages are intangible and more difficult to quantify, as they might compensate victims for the following:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Mental trauma
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Permanent disfigurement
- Permanent disabilities
- Loss of consortium
How do you put a price tag on pain and suffering? Because it is difficult to determine the appropriate value of noneconomic damages, this matter is often left to a jury. The Court stated that a law requiring a reduction in a jury award interferes with the jury’s primary role as fact-finders in injury cases.
Responses to the Decision
Many personal injury advocates and attorneys praised the Court’s ruling, claiming that clients have suffered needlessly due to the damage caps in recent decades. Many injury cases that make it to jury trials involve life-altering and catastrophic injuries, and victims should be able to seek the noneconomic compensation that is in line with their ongoing suffering.
On the other hand, supporters of the damage cap claim that unlimited noneconomic damages will lead to exorbitant jury awards and rising insurance costs. Business owners are especially concerned that their insurance premiums will increase too much to sustain. However, businesses would not face injury claims if they took steps to ensure safety and prevent negligence and injuries to others.
Contact a Salina Personal Injury Attorney for Help Today
At Neustrom & Associates, we stay informed about changing laws and case law, and how it affects our clients. We fight for maximum compensation for injured accident victims, so please call 785-825-1505 or contact us online for your free case evaluation.