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Kansas court upholds limits on damages in lawsuits

Associated Press Modified: October 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm •  Published: October 5, 2012
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas will continue to limit compensation for pain and suffering to $250,000 in personal injury lawsuits following a state Supreme Court ruling Friday in the case of a woman whose doctor removed the wrong ovary from her in 2002.

Amy Miller, a hospital records worker from the northeast Kansas town of Eudora, had challenged the cap in her appeal of a Douglas County district judge's ruling in her medical malpractice lawsuit against her doctor. A jury awarded her nearly $760,000 in damages in 2006, but the judge cut the amount by more than half, largely because of the state's cap on non-economic damages.

Business and medical groups in Kansas had urged the court to uphold the cap, arguing that it keeps medical malpractice and other types of insurance affordable and creates a better economic climate. The limit also has strong support in the state's Republican-dominated Legislature, which has refused to increase it or eliminate it in the past.

Even though Friday's ruling satisfied business groups and their political allies, it's not likely to slake GOP conservatives' desire to give legislators and the governor more influence over how appellate court members are selected. The Supreme Court faced criticism because the case had been on appeal since 2008.

Critics of the cap, who included AARP and advocacy groups for the disabled and domestic abuse victims, had hoped for a ruling similar to one in Missouri in July, when that state's highest court struck down a similar limit on non-economic damages in lawsuits. The Kansas justices expressed misgivings in their 5-2 decision about their state's cap but still upheld the policy, in place since 1988.

The Kansas court ruled in Miller's favor on some issues, validating the malpractice and ordering the lower court judge to reinstate $100,000 in damages for future economic losses that he'd rejected. But William Skepnek, one of her attorneys, said the result remains surprising and "unjust" for Miller, a mother of two who at 38 is unable to have more children.

"It's really a shame that we don't trust juries and we're just going to make sure that people who are badly hurt are undercompensated," Skepnek told The Associated Press.

The high court already upheld the law in a 1990 ruling, but none of the seven current justices were on the court at the time. In the majority opinion, Justice Dan Biles said it's "troubling" that legislators haven't increased the cap in nearly a quarter century to account for inflation and other changes.

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