For decades, personal injury plaintiffs were rather limited in what they could recover in personal injury lawsuits. This is no longer the case, but there’s a lot of interesting background as to why that is.
In any such lawsuit, plaintiffs can seek economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are also sometimes known as compensatory damages because they compensate the plaintiffs for actual costs incurred, such as medical bills, prescription medication costs, lost wages, etc. There is no limit on these damages in Kansas because their purpose is to compensate a victim for current or future financial harm as a result of an accident.
Non-economic damages, then, amount to compensation for things that don’t have such a discrete value. One can easily ascertain the impact of a hospital bill, but what about one’s pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment in life? How does one place a dollar amount on pain someone else will endure for the rest of their life, the trauma they were subjected to, or the fact that their injuries could prevent them from enjoying activities they once loved?
The reality is that there isn’t an objective dollar amount that can be assigned for noneconomic damages, so judges and juries are left to decide for themselves how much these things are “worth.”
How Hilburn v. Enerpipe Ltd. Changed the Noneconomic Damages in Kansas
Until rather recently, Kansas law put a $250,000 cap on what judges and juries could award as compensation for non-economic damages. That meant that no matter how severely someone’s life had been altered by an accident, the most they could hope to gain from a lawsuit was a potential $250,000 in noneconomic damages, plus whatever compensatory damages the court felt were appropriate to provide.
That changed in 2019 when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in Hilburn v. Enerpipe Ltd. At issue was a plaintiff who won a personal injury lawsuit after getting rear-ended by a semi-truck operated by the defendant. The plaintiff was awarded just over $33,000 in economic damages, but also $301,509.14 in noneconomic damages despite the $250,000 statutory limit. As a result, the judge reduced this award to $250,000, but the plaintiff appealed until their case ultimately landed with the Kansas Supreme Court.
Ultimately, the Court ruled that the noneconomic damages cap violated rights protected by Section 5 of the Kansas Bill of Rights because such a limit interferes with the jury’s ability to determine an appropriate compensation owed to a plaintiff to redress their industries.
As a result, the cap on noneconomic damages was officially lifted in Kansas, allowing courts to award any amount of such damages to plaintiffs as is appropriate for each case.
If you or someone you know is seeking to receive compensatory damages from being injured, Bertram & Graf, L.L.C. is here to help.
Contact us online to ask how you can set up your free initial consultation.