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Minutes for HB2291 - Committee on Judiciary

Short Title

Increasing caps on damages in wrongful death actions and escalating them annually based on the consumer price index.

Minutes Content for Wed, Feb 20, 2019

Chairperson Patton stated he was combining the hearing on HB2291 & HB2332.

Natalie Scott, Assistant Revisor, provided an overview of HB2291 & HB2332.  Ms. Scott addressed questions from the membership.  (Attachment 1) (Attachment 2)

Richard W. James testified in support of HB2291.  He feels that Kansans should take a strong stand and tell our state and the entire nation that in Kansas human life is priceless. He would be a proponent of eliminating all wrongful death limitations. Mr. James stated this bill is the product of compromise and takes a long-outdated limit of $250,000 and modestly moves it; however, it is a step in the right direction. (Attachment 3)

Larry Wall testified in support of HB2291 and on behalf of Doug Castleberry who lives in Augusta, Kansas and was not able to testify in person. Mr. Castleberry lost his son, Mark Castleberry, in 1991 due to a negligent truck driver. He lost his wife in 2007 due to a stroke and believed she was not attended to appropriately by their doctor. He retained Larry Wall to represent him in a wrongful death suit against the doctor. The trial resulted with a verdict in his favor; however, he believes the current limitation of damages that can be awarded needs to be changed. (Attachment 4)

David R. Morantz testified in support of HB2291 stated Kansans that seek justice under the wrongful death provisions in Kansas law have endured tragedies that no one expects or wants and prays never to experience. The cap on non-pecuniary loss restricts both the remedy available to Kansans and wrongdoers’ accountability for their deadly acts. Kansans deserve the justice a jury verdict wields. Juries are the voice and conscience of the community. Jurors are ordinary Kansans from all walks of life who have no personal interest in the outcome the trial; they are more than qualified to hear the evidence in a specific case and assess “fair and just” damages based on its unique facts. Damage caps are a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Mr. Morantz also explained the last time that the Legislature increased the cap was 21 years ago, in 1998. He feels the amendments in HB2291 are undeniably a step forward and an update of the current law. (Attachment 5)

Callie Jill Denton testified in support of HB2332 stated Kansas case law holds that punitive damages are not recoverable in a wrongful death action because the Legislature did not expressly provide for their recovery in statute. The Supreme Court has concluded that because the wrongful death cause of action is a creature of statute, the Legislature must expressly authorize punitive damages to allow their recovery. The current law produces illogical results because punitive damages may be available to Kansans when a wrongdoer causes injury, but not when a wrongdoer’s actions cause death. Ms. Dention said HB2332 will provide a remedy for extreme misconduct and cures an inequitable and disproportionate result for Kansas families with wrongful death claims. (Attachment 6)

Matthew Bretz testified in support of HB2332 stated on behalf of the widow whose husband was killed by a repeat offender who valued trash bags over the lives of other members of the community, they ask the membership to fix this statute and allow punitive damages to be assessed in wrongful death cases.  This amendment will carry out the public policy of this state, punishing those who act in a willful or wanton manner causing injuries, and deterring others from similar conduct. (Attachment 7)

Written testimony in opposition to these bills was provided by:

Eric Stafford, Vice President of Government Relations, Kansas Chamber of Commerce HB2291 & HB2332. (Attachment 8)

Kenneth J. Berra, Kansas Association of Defense Counsel HB2291. (Attachment 9)