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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries - June 4, 2010

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefover@kscourts.org.

Appeal No. 100,865: Karen Martinez v. Milburn Enterprises, Inc.

The Kansas Supreme Court today ruled that juries may be told not only the amount billed by a medical services provider in a personal injury case but also a reduced amount the provider may have accepted as payment in full.   Both amounts may be considered by the juries to help them determine the reasonable value of the medical services provided. 

The Court’s 4-3 decision reverses a Rice County District Court judge’s ruling that would have allowed evidence of only the amount accepted as payment by the medical services provider, in this case $5,310, instead of the full amount billed, which totaled $70,496.

The decision came in the case of a woman who was injured when she slipped and fell at a Lyons grocery store in July 2005.  A lawsuit by Karen Martinez, the plaintiff, is still pending in Rice County District Court, but proceedings have been delayed until the filing of today’s Supreme Court decision.

Today’s ruling marks the first time the Kansas high court has ruled that evidence of the amount of damages may include the “write-offs or other acknowledgments that something less than the amount charged has satisfied, or will satisfy, the amount billed.” But, the Court ruled, neither the amount billed nor the amount actually accepted after a write-off conclusively establishes the reasonable value of medical services.

The issue in today’s ruling was hotly contested by attorneys in the case, as well as by the Kansas Association of Defense Counsel and the Kansas Association for Justice, formerly the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association.  Both statewide attorney groups filed “friend of the court” briefs.

The Supreme Court was unanimous in determining that the district court was wrong to limit Martinez’ damages to the actual amount paid under her personal health insurance agreement and her deductible and co-pay (total of $5,310).  But the Court was divided on how the evidence concerning the damage claim should be handled on remand to the district court.

The majority, led by Justice Lawton R. Nuss, held that evidence could be presented on the amount billed by the hospital ($70,496) as well as the amount accepted by the hospital in full satisfaction of the bill ($5,310).   The majority ruled that there should be no mention to the jury of the insurance policy, but that the jury should “determine from these and other facts the reasonable value of the medical services provided to plaintiff.”

Justice Lee A. Johnson, in a separate concurring opinion, said he would have permitted only evidence of the $5,310 payment be admitted into evidence.  But he reluctantly joined Justices Nuss, Marla J. Luckert, and Carol A. Beier to form a majority of the Court.

Chief Justice Robert E. Davis and Justices Eric S. Rosen and Dan Biles filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, indicating they would have instructed the trial court to only permit evidence of the $70,496 billed for the medical services and not any reference to the $5,310 negotiated payment.