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Jim Howell: Don’t get hurt in Kansas

  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012, at 12 a.m.

I think it is fair to say that the majority of citizens of this state do not realize that their Legislature saw fit more than two decades ago to place limits on how much money they can recover when they are seriously injured. Notably, this is in direct conflict with the state’s constitution, which states: “The right of trial by jury shall be inviolate.”

The word “inviolate” is defined by Webster as “not violated or profaned.” In previous decisions, the Kansas Supreme Court has held that this trial by jury is “more than a right to impanel a jury. It is a process that includes the right to assemble a jury, a right to present evidence, a right to have the jury determine and award damages, and the right to a judgment for the full damages as determined by the jury and supported by the evidence.”

Recently, an injured citizen took her case to the state Supreme Court and asked it to follow the constitution and let her collect the full damages a jury awarded her when a doctor made a medical mistake. The court answered her question last week by saying, in essence, the constitution is correct, you have a right to collect all the damages the jury awarded you, but because the medical profession needs protection, anyone suing a medical professional is limited in the damages he can collect (Oct. 6 Eagle).

What? To make matters worse, the same Legislature also passed a law that prohibits juries during trial from being told that the damages they award are limited by law.

There is one more interesting point citizens should be aware of. When the Legislature decided it was OK to ignore the state’s constitution on the inviolate right to a jury trial and put a limit on damages, it promised mandatory insurance coverage for every practicing doctor so an injured citizen could actually recover money damages when a medical professional made a mistake. In 1988, the Legislature decided it would be fair to make doctors carry $3 million in coverage. Later, the Legislature reduced it to $1 million and finally to a mere $300,000. By the way, the Legislature has not raised the limit one penny over the past 24 years, despite inflation and the devaluation of the dollar.

This was also given a blessing by the Supreme Court in its recent decision.

The moral to the story: Don’t get hurt in Kansas. Neither the Legislature nor the high court is protecting your constitutional rights.

Jim Howell of Andover is an attorney.

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