By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
The decision, for which Kansas’ medical community and insurance actuaries figuratively have been holding their breath for nearly six years, means continued stability in the state’s medical malpractice insurance markets and could reduce upward pressure on treatment costs, said Jerry Slaughter, head of the Kansas Medical Society, the state’s largest medical member-service organization.
“I can’t recall a case that would have had the impact of this one,” Slaughter said. “Specialists, doctors in rural areas and everyone would have been impacted if the outcome had been different.”
Relief for some medical-care providers could show up within a week or two, said Charles Wheelen, executive director of the Kansas Health Care Stabilization Fund, which provides supplemental liability coverage for doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers in the state.
“We’ve been building (financial) reserves for years, not knowing how the ruling might come out,” Wheelen said.
Stashing that extra money leaves the fund with assets of about $258 million, or $37 million more than its projected liabilities, he said.
“That means, if our board approves, we can start reducing some premiums,” Wheelen said. The 10-member board is scheduled to meet next week.
Friday’s ruling stems from a Douglas County case brought by Amy C. Miller against her former doctor, Carolyn M. Johnson. Johnson performed surgery on Miller in 2002 in which she removed a healthy ovary instead of a damaged one, which needed to be removed later.
A Douglas County jury awarded Miller nearly $760,000 in damages to cover her medical expenses and other countable economic damages, $400,000 for pain and suffering, and $100,000 to help cover future medical costs.
Following Kansas law, then-Douglas County Judge Stephen Six of Lawrence reduced the pain-and-suffering award to $250,000. Six also struck down the $100,000 for future medical expenses.
Miller and her attorneys appealed, alleging the cap violated her full right to a jury trial guaranteed by the Kansas Constitution. The justices Friday restored the $100,000 for future medical expenses but ruled the cap — passed by the Kansas Legislature in 1988 to rein in big jury awards and stabilize malpractice premiums for medical-care providers — still provided sufficient jury trial and other constitutional protections.
Contact Gene Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org