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June 14, 2019. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that capping jury awards for non-economic damages an injured person is able to recover in a lawsuit violates the right to trial by jury as set out in the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Supporters for the damages caps say it helps hold down insurance costs and safeguard against runaway jury verdicts while those against say it limits the ability to recover compensation after a jury has ruled for the plaintiff.
Kansas is one of several states that have limited non-economic damages, particularly in medical malpractice cases.
Legislators passed the damages cap in 1988 as a way to rein in large jury awards. The concern was that these verdicts would lead to increasing insurance premiums and hurt the economy.
The cap, now $325,000, is scheduled to increase to $350,000 in 2022.
This has been an issue that has hurt personal injury victims for years. The damages cap basically substitutes Legislature’s judgment for that of a jury.
Non-economic damages may include pain, emotional anguish, humiliation, reputational damage, loss of enjoyment of activities, or worsening of prior injuries. Often, they are referred to as pain and suffering.
In 2010, Diana K. Hilburn was injured when the car she was riding in was rear-ended by a semi-trailer truck. She sued the truck’s owner, Enerpipe Ltd., for negligence. She was awarded $335,000 by a jury, which included non-economic losses of $301,509.14. At the time, the state of Kansas capped these non-economic damages at $250,000, which reduced the total award to $283,490.86. Upon appeal, the Kansas Court of Appeals rejected the argument that the cap was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court ruling on Friday held that the cap did, in fact, violate the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights on the jury’s ability to award whatever damages they felt would compensate plaintiff Hilburn for injuries.
Justice Carol Beier wrote the following for the court, “ … we simply cannot square a right specially designated by the people as ‘inviolate’ with the practical effect of the damages cap: substituting juries’ factual determinations of actual damages with an across-the-board legislative determination of the maximum conceivable amount of actual damages,”
Judges will still retain the ability to rein in runaway jury verdicts under a legal doctrine known as remittitur.
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