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Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

Shirley v. Smith, 933 P.2d 651 (Kan. 1997).

This case addresses the following issue:

Are past medical bills considered economic damages according to Kansas law?

This case explored the issue of whether past medical bills were considered economic damages. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that economic damages included the cost of medical care, past and future, and related benefits. Id. at 657.

On April 16, 1991, the plaintiff, a 17 year old female, went to see her family physician after experiencing abdominal pain. Id. at 653. The family physician recommended the plaintiff see the defendant, another doctor in the area. Id. The defendant made three unsuccessful attempts to obtain a bone marrow specimen from the plaintiff. Id. After the unsuccessful attempts, the plaintiff began to experience lower back pain. Id. Additionally, the plaintiff had an extremely hard time urinating. Id. After seeing a doctor who specialized in the urinary tract, the doctor was of the opinion that the plaintiff’s bladder dysfunction was due to the bleed from the bone marrow puncture by the defendant. Id. He recommended that the plaintiff be placed on self-catherization, where she would take a catheter and empty her bladder every four hours to keep her bladder from overfilling. Id. As a result of the incident, the plaintiff brought a medical malpractice action against the defendant alleging that the defendant negligently punctured her spinal canal and caused bowel damage that required the patient to perform self-catherization. Id. at 652. After trial, the district court granted the plaintiff $457,000 in total damages. Id. Of the total damages, $30,000 were considered past medical expenses to date (time of injury to trial) and $135,000 were considered economic damages that dealt with the loss of time the plaintiff encountered from having to perform the self-catherization. Id. at 655.

The defendant’s main argument in this case was that the loss of time for self-catherization could not be claimed as an economic damage. Id. Rather, the defendant felt like it should have been claimed as a noneconomic damage that included items such as loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, and disability. Id. In addressing the defendant’s argument, the court indicated that the damages awarded for self-catherization should have been viewed more as a medical expense rather than a loss of time. Id. at 657. In making this statement, the court noted that economic damages included the cost of medical care, past and future, and related benefits such as lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and other such losses. Id. In addition, the court stated that the reasonable expense of treatment was a proper element of economic damages. Id. However, since the plaintiff performed this treatment herself, the court noted there were no Kansas decisions that ruled on self-administered treatments. Id.

Even though the plaintiff labeled the damages as loss of time, the court viewed this as harmless and determined that the damages would have come out the same way had the plaintiff labeled the damages as medical expenses. Id. at 658. In order to determine these damages, the court looked to see what the plaintiff or another nonmedical person would have been paid to administer the catherization. Id.

In sum, the court considered the past medical bills in determining the total damages awarded to the plaintiff. Id.

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