On Friday, June 14, 2019, in a major decision that significantly alters the law and the landscape of personal injury litigation in Kansas, the state’s supreme court ruled in a 4-2 decision that Kansas’ long-standing, statutory caps on non-economic damages is unconstitutional. The damage cap, which at the time of the ruling was $325,000, covers damage issues such as pain, suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement and loss of enjoyment of life following an injury. In the case of Hilburn v. Enerpipe, Ltd., the justices ruled 4-2 that statutory damage caps violate a person’s right to a jury trial under the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Kansas’ damage caps were first enacted in 1988.
Why does this decision matter? Noneconomic damages can vary widely due to the highly subjective nature of pain, suffering, disfigurement, mental anguish, etc… experienced by a plaintiff. It can often be difficult for defendants and their counsel to evaluate and anticipate what monetary value a jury might place on such injuries. As such, it’s important to have an experienced and skilled trial attorney on your side.
What cases are affected by the ruling? The court’s decision is effective as of June 14, 2019. Therefore, all currently pending and future personal injury actions in Kansas, including medical malpractice, motor vehicle, and premises liability cases, are affected by the ruling.
Does this ruling affect wrongful death cases? No. This decision does not affect the separate statutory damage caps in Kansas for wrongful-death actions (K.S.A. 60-1903) or punitive damages (K.S.A. 60-3702).
Will this ruling affect my case? The Hilburn opinion’s impact on any given lawsuit will have to be evaluated individually. There will be some cases, which because of the limited nature of the injuries, which will not be affected much if at all. In cases where there are significant injuries, however, the noneconomic damages could be very large and the impact of the ruling on those cases, both in terms of settlement value and client risk/exposure, could be substantial.
If you would like to discuss how the Hilburn decision impacts your case, please contact any of the SLS attorneys with questions you may have about this court opinion. Now, more than ever, it’s imperative to have a trial lawyer in your corner. At SLS, we actually try lawsuits … something that many firms just won’t do.