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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.

Martinez v. Milburn Enterprises, Inc., 290 Kan. 572, 233 P.3d 205 (2010).

This case addresses the following issue:

Is Section 60-3403, which abolishes the collateral source rule in medical malpractice cases, constitutional?

Section 60-3403 “abrogates the common-law collateral source rule in any medical malpractice liability action.” Id. at 665. The collateral source rule prohibits any evidence from being placed before the jury showing that a plaintiff received payment from a third-party source; basically, a plaintiff is not punished for having health insurance that pays for some of his or her medical bills. Id. at 666. The court found that Section 60-3403 could not survive heighten scrutiny under Section 1 and 18 of the Kansas Bill of Rights. Id. at 671. The statute openly treats victims of medical malpractice differently than victims of other torts and does not “substantially further a legitimate legislative objective.” Id. at 678. Thus, the statute was unconstitutional and invalid. Id.

This case is actually three cases consolidated on appeal. Id. at 665. Two courts had found Section 60-3403 unconstitutional, and the third court had found the statute valid. Id. The statute was challenged under both the equal protection clause of the Kansas Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Id.

The court first determined that, because the Kansas Bill of Rights “affords separate, adequate, and greater rights than the federal Constitution,” the case would be decided solely under the Kansas Constitution. Id. at 671. The court then determined which level of scrutiny should apply to the statue: rational basis or heightened scrutiny. Id. at 669. Rational basis is the de facto standard, and only requires that the statue be rationally related to a state interest. Id. Heightened scrutiny, on the other hand, requires “the statutory classification to substantially further a legitimate legislature purpose.” Id. Weighing many factors, the court concluded heightened scrutiny was the appropriate standard. Id. at 674.

Using this standard, the court found that the statute could not pass constitutional muster. Id. at 675. The statute “singles out a class of persons and organizations for preferential treatment not extended to any other tortfeasors.” Id. These lucky few were “relieved of professional accountability for their actions” due to a plaintiff’s foresight in obtaining medical insurance. Id. Further, there was no legitimate legislative objection that was substantially furthered by Section 60-3403. Id. at 677-78. Thus, the statute ran afoul of the Kansas Constitution’s promise of equal protection and was invalid. Id. at 678.

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