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Caps on Non-Economic Damages

In recent years, some states have passed laws to set limits on how much money a plaintiff can recover in non-economic damages. Non-economic damages allow an injured person to recover money for unquantifiable injuries such as waking up every day with pain that prevents you from enjoying life or emotional distress caused by your injury. Because the right to a jury trial in civil cases is a constitutional right in many states, plaintiffs have challenged many of these laws as unconstitutional.

In a recent case, Hilburn v. Enerpipe Ltd, Diana K. Hilburn was awarded $301,509.14 in non-economic damages by a jury after being rear-ended by a semi-truck. However, due to a Kansas law capping non-economic damages, Ms. Hilburn only received $250,000. Ms. Hilburn challenged the Kansas law's constitutionality. Her case eventually reached the Supreme Court of Kansas, where the high court declared the damages cap as unconstitutional and reinstated the full verdict to Ms. Hilburn.

The Supreme Court of Kansas held that the non-economic damages cap violated Ms. Hilburn's constitutional rights because it intruded upon the jury's determination of the amount of money to compensate her injury. Indeed, Section 5 of the Kansas Bill of Rights declares that "The right of trial by jury shall be inviolate," the Court ultimately held that "we simply cannot square a right specifically designated by the people as 'inviolate' with the practical effect of the damages cap: substituting juries' factual determinations of actual damages with an across-the-board legislative determination of the maximum conceivable amount of actual damages."

Kansas is not the first state to have laws on damage caps struck down by the judiciary. Oklahoma, Florida, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Washington have found caps on non-economic damages in personal injury cases to be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Washington, have found caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases to be unconstitutional.

Indiana Non-Economic Damages Cap

Indiana does not impose caps for non-economic damages. However, Indiana does cap all damages for medical malpractice claims at $1.25 million and further, caps damages against the state at $700,000.

Kentucky Non-Economic Damages Cap

Kentucky does not impose any caps on damages, non-economic or otherwise. Section 54 of the Kentucky Constitution states that the legislature "shall have no power to limit the amount to be recovered for injuries resulting in death, or for injuries to person or property." Accordingly, unless constitutional amendment passes to change Section 54, victims of personal injury in Kentucky will not be limited by caps on damages.

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