Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, Inc., No. 62983

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Kansas
Writing for the CourtLOCKETT; McFARLAND; HERD; ALLEGRUCCI
Citation789 P.2d 541,246 Kan. 336
PartiesDouglas SAMSEL, Plaintiff, v. WHEELER TRANSPORT SERVICES, INC., Don C. Hilgenfeld, and Great West Casualty Company, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 62983
Decision Date21 March 1990

Page 541

789 P.2d 541
246 Kan. 336
Douglas SAMSEL, Plaintiff,
v.
WHEELER TRANSPORT SERVICES, INC., Don C. Hilgenfeld, and
Great West Casualty Company, Defendants.
No. 62983.
Supreme Court of Kansas.
March 21, 1990.

Page 542

Syllabus by the Court

1. All governmental sovereign power is vested in the legislature, except such as is granted to the other branches of government, or expressly withheld from the legislature by constitutional restrictions.

2. It is the primary duty of the courts to safeguard the declaration of rights and remedies guaranteed by constitutional provisions.

Page 543

3. A statute will not be declared unconstitutional unless its infringement on the superior law of the constitution is clear beyond substantial doubt.

4. The common law includes those principles, usages, and rules of action applicable to the government and security of persons and property which do not rest for their authority upon any express or positive statute or our written constitution, but upon statements of principles found in the decisions of the courts.

5. The purpose of awarding damages is to make a party whole by restoring that party to the position he was in prior to the injury.

6. Damages to restore a person to his prior position are divided into economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages include the cost of medical care, past and future, and related benefits, i.e., lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and other such losses. Noneconomic losses include claims for pain and suffering, mental anguish, injury and disfigurement not affecting earning capacity, and losses which cannot be easily expressed in dollars and cents.

7. In personal injury actions, noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, are elements of Kansas common-law damages for the jury to consider.

8. Under the doctrine of stare decisis, once a point of law has been established by a court, that point of law will generally be followed by the same court and all courts of lower rank in subsequent cases where the same legal issue is raised.

[246 Kan. 337] 9. The application of stare decisis ensures stability and continuity--demonstrating a continuing legitimacy of judicial review. Judicial adherence to constitutional precedent ensures that all branches of government, including the judicial branch, are bound by law.

10. Both the legislature and the courts have the right to modify the common law. Only the legislature can modify an individual's constitutional right to a jury trial in a civil action through its power to change the common law, but that right of the legislature is not unlimited. Any modification of the individual's constitutional rights must meet due process requirements and be reasonably necessary in the public interest to promote the general welfare.

11. Without altering the individual's right to a jury trial, the legislature may limit recovery of noneconomic losses after a set amount of economic losses occurs to individuals who are personally injured, by providing a sufficient quid pro quo for the limitation.

Jerry R. Palmer, of Palmer, Marquardt & Snyder, P.A., Topeka, argued the cause and was on the briefs, for plaintiff.

Edwin Dudley Smith, of Fisher, Patterson, Sayler & Smith, Topeka, and Steve R. Fabert, of the same firm, argued the cause and were on the briefs, for defendants.

G. Gordon Atcheson, of Shamberg, Johnson, Bergman & Morris, Chartered, Overland Park, was on the brief amicus curiae, for the Kansas Trial Lawyers Ass'n.

LOCKETT, Justice:

Chief Judge Earl E. O'Connor of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas has certified the following question for resolution pursuant to K.S.A. 60-3201: Does K.S.A.1987 Supp. 60-19a01 violate the Kansas Constitution, including §§ 5 and 18 of the Kansas Bill of Rights?

The majority of our legislature voted to limit the traditional role of the jury to determine the monetary value for loss of the [246 Kan. 338] quality of life in Kansas by setting a limit on the recovery of noneconomic damages. The majority of this court recognizes that the legislature's decision to modify the common law, by setting a limit on noneconomic damages, is a legislative decision that does not violate our state constitution.

Prior to discussing the certified question, however, we will review some of the findings contained in the following report: Report of the Kansas Citizens Committee to Review Legal Liability Problems in Kansas as They Affect Insurance and Other Matters: Recommendations in the Area

Page 544

of Liability Insurance (Oct. 17, 1986) (a report to Fletcher Bell, Kansas Commissioner of Insurance) (hereinafter Citizens Committee Report ). This report provides important insights into the stormy controversy which currently surrounds the liability insurance and tort systems.

A great change in tort doctrine has taken place over the past century. The primary function of damages is no longer seen as deterrence or retribution for harm caused; damages are now seen as compensation. In large part, this shift has been caused by the modern availability of affordable liability insurance, the purchase of which has occasionally been required by legislation. See, e.g., K.S.A. 40-3401 et seq. (the Health Care Provider Insurance Availability Act guarantees the availability of insurance to all Kansas physicians).

It is the availability of liability insurance which critics warn is threatened by the present tort system. If insurance goes, so will compensation to many plaintiffs, no matter how favorable the laws are in their favor. In reality, "[j]ustice is not achieved when deserved compensation is granted by a court; it is achieved when that compensation is paid to the plaintiff." Citizens Committee Report 52 (quoting Report of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Liability Insurance for the State of New York 121-29 [Apr. 1986].

Insurance companies derive profits from two sources: underwriting revenues and investment income. Investment income fluctuations play an enormous part in premium cycles. "However, never before did interest rates have such a profound influence upon premiums as during the latest cycle when double digit interest rates provided insurance companies with a substantial[246 Kan. 339] pool of funds available to use to increase market share by reducing premiums." Citizens Committee Report 33-34.

The insurance crisis of the 1970s, referred to in the Citizens Committee Report, was partially caused by the industry's increased market at lower premiums due to its remarkably high rate of return on investments. The crisis was especially hard-felt in the malpractice insurance area. In response to this crisis and to ensure the continued availability of medical liability insurance, every state enacted some type of tort reform; the statutes number over 300. Comment, Caps, "Crisis", and Constitutionality--Evaluating the 1986 Kansas Medical Malpractice Legislation, 35 Kan.L.Rev. 763, 765 n. 18 (1987).

The Kansas Legislature and Governor took the following actions: In 1976, the Health Care Provider Insurance Availability Act, which created the Health Care Stabilization Fund, was enacted (K.S.A. 40-3401 et seq.); medical malpractice screening panels were established (K.S.A. 65-4901 et seq.); the statute of limitations was shortened as to medical malpractice actions (K.S.A. 60-513); and the collateral source rule was modified as to medical malpractice actions (K.S.A. 60-471). We upheld the modification to the statute of limitations in Stephens v. Snyder Clinic Ass'n, 230 Kan. 115, 631 P.2d 222 (1981). In Wentling v. Medical Anesthesia Services, 237 Kan. 503, 518, 701 P.2d 939 (1985), we invalidated the modification to the collateral source rule as a violation of the equal protection guarantee of our state constitution. In its 1985 session, the legislature took note of Wentling and repealed K.S.A. 60-471 by enacting L.1985, ch. 197, § 5.

Some insurance industry observers correctly predicted that a new crisis would develop in the early 1980s as interest rates fell and insurance companies' investment returns decreased. See Comment, 35 Kan.L.Rev. at 770. The crisis of the 1980s is the burgeoning price of medical malpractice insurance.

Because the legislation of the 1970s had failed to halt the increasing cost of medical malpractice insurance and in response to the new crisis of the 1980s, the Kansas Legislature took the following actions in 1985: (1) a cap was placed on punitive damages in medical malpractice actions, and (2) another attempt was made at modifying the collateral source rule in medical malpractice [246 Kan. 340] actions (K.S.A.1985 Supp. 60-3403). In Farley v. Engelken, 241 Kan. 663, 740 P.2d 1058 (1987), we found this

Page 545

modification of the collateral source rule to be a violation of equal protection.

When its prior efforts failed to check the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums as promised, the 1986 legislature went further, taking the following actions: medical malpractice screening panel decisions were made admissible at trial (K.S.A.1986 Supp. 65-4904[c]; the Health Care Stabilization Fund's liability was restricted (K.S.A. 40-3403); the award of attorney fees was made contingent on approval after an evidentiary hearing (K.S.A.1986 Supp. 7-121b[a]; the Internal Risk Management Program was created (K.S.A.1986 Supp. 65-4922); and limitations were placed on the qualifications of expert witnesses in medical malpractice actions (K.S.A.1986 Supp. 60-3412). Finally, the legislature attempted to limit the liability of health care providers in medical malpractice actions by capping recovery for noneconomic losses at $250,000 and by placing a total cap on all losses, both economic and noneconomic, at $1,000,000 (K.S.A.1986 Supp. 60-3407). We invalidated this last measure as a violation of §§ 5 and 18 of the Kansas Bill of Rights in Kansas Malpractice Victims Coalition v. Bell, 243 Kan. 333, 757 P.2d 251 (1988) (Malpractice Victims...

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98 practice notes
  • Trujillo v. City of Albuquerque, No. 18296
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • August 27, 1990
    ...this court the critic of the legislature; rather, this court is the guardian of the constitution." Samsel v. Wheeler Transp. Servs., Inc., 246 Kan. 336, 348, 789 P.2d 541, 549 (1990) (finding statutory limit on noneconomic tort damages constitutional under a form of intermediate scrutiny). ......
  • Aves By and Through Aves v. Shah, No. 73184
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • November 3, 1995
    ...remedy or quid pro quo to replace the vested common-law remedy which has been modified. Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, Inc., 246 Kan. 336, 358, 789 P.2d 541 The first question is whether there is a significant public interest to justify an abrogation of this bad faith remedy against ......
  • Butler v. Flint Goodrich Hosp. of Dillard University, No. 92
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • October 19, 1992
    ...not violate the right to jury trial or due process, because there was a legislative quid pro quo. Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, 246 Kan. 336, 789 P.2d 541 (1990) (overruled on other grounds in Bair, infra). Kansas constitutionally eliminated vicarious liability for medical malpracti......
  • State v. Neufeld, No. 74412
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • November 8, 1996
    ...written constitution, but upon statements of principles found in the decisions of the courts. Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, Inc., 246 Kan. 336, Syl. p 4, 789 P.2d 541 (1990), overruled in part on other grounds 248 Kan. 824, 844, 811 P.2d 1176 Page 1343 [260 Kan. 958] In Kansas, the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
97 cases
  • Trujillo v. City of Albuquerque, No. 18296
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court of New Mexico
    • August 27, 1990
    ...this court the critic of the legislature; rather, this court is the guardian of the constitution." Samsel v. Wheeler Transp. Servs., Inc., 246 Kan. 336, 348, 789 P.2d 541, 549 (1990) (finding statutory limit on noneconomic tort damages constitutional under a form of intermediate scrutiny). ......
  • Aves By and Through Aves v. Shah, No. 73184
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • November 3, 1995
    ...remedy or quid pro quo to replace the vested common-law remedy which has been modified. Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, Inc., 246 Kan. 336, 358, 789 P.2d 541 The first question is whether there is a significant public interest to justify an abrogation of this bad faith remedy against ......
  • Butler v. Flint Goodrich Hosp. of Dillard University, No. 92
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • October 19, 1992
    ...not violate the right to jury trial or due process, because there was a legislative quid pro quo. Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, 246 Kan. 336, 789 P.2d 541 (1990) (overruled on other grounds in Bair, infra). Kansas constitutionally eliminated vicarious liability for medical malpracti......
  • State v. Neufeld, No. 74412
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • November 8, 1996
    ...written constitution, but upon statements of principles found in the decisions of the courts. Samsel v. Wheeler Transport Services, Inc., 246 Kan. 336, Syl. p 4, 789 P.2d 541 (1990), overruled in part on other grounds 248 Kan. 824, 844, 811 P.2d 1176 Page 1343 [260 Kan. 958] In Kansas, the ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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