Trials & Litigation

Cap on pain-and-suffering damages violates Kansas Constitution, state supreme court says

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Kansas Supreme Court seal

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled 4-2 Friday that a cap on noneconomic damages violates the right to a jury trial under the state constitution’s Bill of Rights.

The court struck down a damages cap of $250,000 in the case of Diana Hilburn, a passenger in a car rear-ended by a semitruck in November 2010, the Wichita Eagle reports.

Jurors had awarded Hilburn about $34,000 for medical costs and about $301,500 in noneconomic damages. A judge reduced the total judgment from $335,000 to about $284,000 because of the noneconomic damages cap.

The damages cap had limited damages for pain, suffering, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life in personal-injury cases. The amount of the cap was later raised to $325,000.

The court majority held that the damages cap violated Section 5 of the state Bill of Rights, which says the right to a trial by jury “shall be inviolate.”

“The decisions from 14 of our sister states that have upheld damages caps under attack for violating constitutional jury trial protections do not persuade us,” Justice Carol Beier wrote in a decision joined by two other justices.

Most state courts that upheld the caps used a fact-law distinction, ruling that jurors find facts while the law determines the consequences of the judgment.

Beier instead cited a ruling of the Washington Supreme Court, which said juries determine facts, including the ultimate fact of damages.

A fourth justice concurred in the judgment in Hilburn’s case but took a different approach to deciding the case.

Two dissenters said they would apply the test used in a 2012 Kansas case, Miller v. Johnson, which upheld a damages cap in medical malpractice cases. The dissent argued that the majority in Hilburn’s case wrongly overturned that test in right-to-jury challenges.

The new case is Hilburn v. Enerpipe.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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