This summer, a landmark opinion from the Kansas Supreme Court eliminated the cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Decided in a case called Hilburn v. Enerpipe, the ruling ensures personal injury plaintiffs will no longer be regulated by the $250,000 cap established in 1986.
The History of the Cap
Kansas initially applied a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages specifically to medical malpractice cases, so the state could better recruit and retain doctors. Soon, the cap expanded to personal injury lawsuits of all kinds.
For decades, those affected by truck accidents and medical negligence were awarded large verdicts, only to have them reduced by thousands, sometimes millions of dollars. Critics of the cap called it unfair, and even supporters questioned its inability to account for inflation since its 1986 introduction.
In 2014, the cap was raised to $300,000, and in 2018, it was raised to $325,000. Kansas planned to raise the cap to $350,000 in 2022, but a case involving a semi-truck driver and an innocent Kansan named Diana Hilburn changed the state’s plans.
In this case, justices ruled 4-2 that the cap was unconstitutional and violated Kansas residents’ rights to a jury trial.
What This Means for Plaintiffs
Medical malpractice attorneys across the state are delighted by the decision, expressing the following in statements to the Kansas City Star:
“It definitely changes the landscape for any pending cases or any future cases,”
“Doctors have too long been shielded from responsibility for mistakes that cause a lifetime of suffering.”
A Case Study
One former plaintiff also spoke to the Star about her experience with medical malpractice when the $250,000 cap was in place. She spoke of her difficulties finding an attorney, which took her almost 2 years to do.
According to local attorneys in Kansas, some lawyers would not take on medical malpractice claims at the time because the costs of going to trial would exceed the amount plaintiffs could recoup if they won.
Even when she found an attorney, the Star’s plaintiff was told her case “wouldn’t bring a financial windfall.” Still, the woman soldiered on, stating:
“We did not go into it obviously for the money, because we knew there wasn’t going to be any. I just really wanted to not have another woman go through what I went through.”
What the plaintiff went through was, indeed, horrendous.
After going in for a routine surgery to relieve heavy periods, a mistake by her doctor caused 194-degree water to burn through her uterus, colon, and intestines. As a result of this instance of medical malpractice, she suffered indescribable pain, had surgery to remove 6 to 8 inches of her burned colon and appendix, suffered a serious infection, and ultimately had 21 inches of intestine removed. Additionally, the woman lived with a colostomy bag for 11 months and went through an extremely risky surgery to reconnect her bowels.
In 2015, the plaintiff went to trial and was awarded $2 million for pain and suffering. Her relief was short-lived, though, as her noneconomic damages were immediately reduced to $250,000.
A jury believed this woman deserved $2 million for her undeniably terrible experience, but the state of Kansas reduced her award to $250,000 without a second thought.
This is why plaintiffs’ attorneys, like the ones at Bertram & Graf, L.L.C. are in full support of the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision.
Pursue Full Compensation with Our Firm
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision will not apply retroactively, so our attorneys cannot assist the woman interviewed by the Star.
Now more than ever before, however, we have the power to hold negligent medical providers fully accountable for their egregious mistakes and provide our clients with the resources they need to recover.
If you have faced a medical error like the one described above, please contact our firm at (888) 398-2277 and/or schedule a free consultation online.