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.
Bonell v. Bank of America, 284 F. Supp. 2d 1284 (D. Kan. 2003).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can an individual bring a claim based upon the Kansas Trade Practices Act?
In this matter, an employee brought suit based upon a dispute about the amount of benefits paid and still owing under a long-term disability plan. Id. at 1285. The plaintiff-employee brought suit based on several theories, including the Kansas Trade Practices Act. Id. at 1289. The court found that the Act did not provide a private cause of action for an individual, but instead only the Kansas Commissioner of Insurance may bring claims based on unfair claim settlement practices. Id. Thus, Plaintiff’s private claim had to be dismissed. Id.
The Plaintiff in this case was an employee that participated in a long-term disability plan offered through his employer. Id. The plan was administered by Defendant. Id. In late 2000, Plaintiff had developed a medical condition and began requiring periods of absence from work. Id. About a year later, Plaintiff was forced to leave work altogether. Id. The dispute at issue arises from determining when Plaintiff became disabled. Id. at 1286. This determination controls how much Plaintiff would be paid based on his monthly earnings averaged over the preceding year. Id. If the disability began in 2000, Plaintiff’s average monthly earnings would be much more than if the disability began in 2001. Id. The Defendant, of course, argued that the 2001 date applied while Plaintiff argued the earlier date was appropriate. Id.
The Kansas Trade Practices Act requires insurance companies to act with good faith and fairness in settling disputed claims with its insured. Id. at 1289. However, “the commissioner of insurance has the exclusive power to enforce the Kansas Act.” Id. This means that the insured him- or herself cannot bring an action based upon the Act. Id. Simply put, “the Kansas Act does not provide a private cause of action.” Id. Thus, Plaintiff’s claim based upon the Act must be dismissed. Id.