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Kansas Supreme Court Throws Out Longstanding Cap on Noneconomic Damages in Personal Injury Lawsuits

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On June 14, 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court struck down Kansas' cap on damages for noneconomic damages in personal injury lawsuits on the basis that the cap was unconstitutional. In Kansans, the legislature imposed a limit on the amount noneconomic money damages a jury can award a plaintiff in personal injury cases. Kansas' overturning this cap is hopefully just the first domino toppling over, and soon to be followed by other states seeking to return power to the hands of the people.

Understanding what noneconomic damages are is best done by explaining what they are not. For example, economic damages are money awarded to a plaintiff to reimburse them for money they have spent on medical treatment to recover from his or her injuries. The amount of economic damages is easy to arrive at and simple to measure by adding up and totaling all the money the plaintiff spent recovering from his or her injuries, or calculating all the lost earnings, future medical expenses, etc. Conversely, noneconomic damages are not measured by money spent and are awarded for intangible and immeasurable things like pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disability, mental anguish, loss of consortium, and disfigurement.

Caps on noneconomic damages limit a plaintiff's recovery regardless of how heinous the injury is or how harsh the effect on his or her life. For example, a plaintiff could be paralyzed for the rest of her life and a plaintiff could recover no more than $250,000 noneconomic damages due to the cap, a number far too small for someone that will never walk on her own again. This was true even if the jury heard all the evidence and awarded $25 million for noneconomic damages; the Kansas cap would then reduce the noneconomic damages awarded to $250,000 for the judgment. This clearly robs the jury of their role to weigh the evidence and render a verdict.

In striking down their noneconomic damages cap, Kansas has returned the power to measure damages to the hands of juries and removed such power from the grasp of politicians. The Kansas Supreme Court did this by ruling the cap unconstitutional because it violates a plaintiff's right to a jury trial, which is guaranteed in the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and imposed on the states via the 14th Amendment. These caps were put in place to keep insurance costs low. However, the Kanas Supreme Court states that such cost-benefit analysis does not trump a plaintiff's ability to fully recover for his or her injuries.

Similar noneconomic damage caps are in place in many other states including Texas, which has an identical cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. Texas has yet to strike down its arbitrary caps on damages. However, if justice is to be had, caps like these must be struck down, allowing for the jury to make those decisions after a trial, rather than a politician making the decisions without hearing a shred of evidence. Indeed, if we trust the juries to render verdicts in criminal cases and decide who is innocent or guilty, and who lives and who dies, then we must certainly trust the juries in the civil cases to determine the fair amount of damages.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured, call Abraham Watkins today. It is imperative that you find a law firm to manage your claim as soon as possible following an injury. Further, it is important to find a skilled law firm with experience handling these cases to ensure that the responsible parties are held fully accountable. The law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz is the oldest personal injury firm in Texas, and our attorneys are standing by to assist with your claim. Call us today at 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584 for your free consultation.

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