The war on medical malpractice caps rages on. Although several state Supreme Courts have recently struck down malpractice laws aiming to limit awards for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, the Kansas Supreme Court has just ruled that the law is constitutional and can stand.
The case at hand involved a 28-year-old patient that had surgery to remove an ovary. The surgeon mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, forcing the patient to then undergo a second surgery with a different surgeon to remove the diseased ovary.
The original surgeon was found at fault during trial, and the patient was awarded a total of $759,679 in damages, including $575,000 for current and future noneconomic losses, plus $100,000 for future medical bills. The trial judge then reduced the award to $334,679, citing a state law that caps non-economic damages at $250,000.
In its decision, the Kansas Supreme Court held that the limit at which noneconomic awards are capped is still adequate despite the fact that the sum of money is not worth as much as it was in 1988, when the law was first enacted. The Court held in its opinion that although the cap does restrict the common law right to compensation for damages, “the Legislature has substituted an adequate statutory remedy for the modification of the individual rights at issue.”
“[I]mposing a limit on noneconomic damages furthers the objective of reducing and stabilizing insurance premiums by providing predictability and eliminating the possibility of large noneconomic damages awards,” the Court wrote.
Two justices disagreed, and in strongly worded dissenting opinions expressed their views that that the cap on damages meant that injured patients were not adequately compensated for their injuries and were deprived of having a jury decide the amount of their compensation.