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October 5th, 2012

Kansas Supreme Court Upholds Non-Economic Damages Limit

The Kansas Supreme Court today upheld a $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages that has been in place since 1988.  The ruling in Miller v. Johnson, M.D. stems from a lower-court case that has been pending before the high court for more than three years.

Health care providers in Kansas have sought to keep the limit in place, reports the  Wichita Business Journal, arguing that its elimination would lead to higher malpractice insurance premiums and reduced access to health care as discouraged doctors retire early or otherwise move their practices to other states.  Other Kansas observers note that personal injury lawsuits have steadily declined in recent years, thanks in part to the limit on pain and suffering awards.  If plaintiffs lawyers working on a contingency fee basis are less likely to score a big payday with a questionable case, they’re less likely to pursue it.

This was not the first time the state’s high court upheld the constitutionality of the noneconomic damages limit.  In 1990, the it did so in the case of Samsel II, and it largely relied on that precedent in today’s decision.  The court declared that the limit did not violate the right to a jury trial, the right to a remedy, or equal protection provisions of the Kansas Constitution.  And, the court declared, the limit does not violate the separation of powers doctrine

The ruling reaffirms Kansas’s standing within a growing majority of states that have upheld similarly reasonable limits on noneconomic damages.  But its decision today stands in stark contrast to the August decision rendered by the supreme court in neighboring Missouri, the “Show Me Your Lawsuits State.”  Missouri’s high court saw fit to join a minority of states that have struck down  such limits as unconstitutional. 

Don’t come crying to us, Missouri, when your doctors start fleeing to Kansas.

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