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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.

Wentling v. Med. Anesthesia Servs., P.A., 701 P.2d 939 (Kan. 1985).

This case addresses the following issue:

What are limited and unlimited damages and what does a plaintiff have to show to prove that a loss is monetary?

This case defined limited and unlimited damages and addressed the issue of what a plaintiff must prove in order to show that one of his or her losses was monetary. According to the court, limited damages include mental anguish, suffering, bereavement, loss of society, and loss of companionship. Id. at 941. On the other hand, unlimited damages relate to a loss of money. Id. Additionally, in order to prove that one of the losses was monetary in value, the plaintiff must show the nature and extent of the loss stated. Id. at 945.

The plaintiff brought a wrongful death action based on the defendant’s medical malpractice in improperly administering a spinal anesthetic to the plaintiff’s wife. Id. at 940. The plaintiff’s wife became pregnant and was given an epidural anesthetic after she went into labor. Id. at 941. Once it was discovered that the baby was emerging “brow first,” the wife was informed that the medical personnel were going to perform a C-section. Id. The wife was taken to the operating room and nurse anesthetists administered a spinal anesthetic without the presence of a doctor and without any doctor’s order. Id. The anesthetic caused the wife to vomit and resulted in immediate seizures, cardiac arrest, and a loss of consciousness. Id. The baby was delivered safely but the wife died four days later. Id. The hospital admitted 100% liability and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $25,000 in limited damages and $786,166 in unlimited damages. Id. However, the hospital appealed the verdict stating that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to consider certain elements of the plaintiff’s damage prayer as unlimited damages without sufficient evidence to establish a pecuniary (monetary) loss. Id. In addition, the hospital argued that the plaintiff did not satisfy his burden of proof by showing the nature and extent of his losses. Id.

In addressing the hospital’s arguments, the court first defined the terms limited damages and unlimited damages. Id. According to the court, limited damages included mental anguish, suffering, bereavement, loss of society, and loss of companionship. Id. Additionally, the legislature limited these types of damages to $25,000. Id. On the other hand, there were no legislative limits on unlimited damages and these type of damages needed to relate to a loss of money, or something by which money or something of money value may be acquired. Id. at 942. So, the hospital argued that some of the damages that the jury found to be “unlimited” should have actually been “limited” because the damages were not supported by evidence of monetary loss. Id. Examples of these damages included services, care, and guidance. Id.

The court first looked to determine whether services, care, and guidance were considered monetary losses. Id. at 944. The court found that monetary loss may be either a loss arising from denial of something to which the plaintiff would have been legally entitled had his life not been taken; or it may be a loss arising from a denial of benefits that could reasonably be expected to have been received. Id. This included not only money but anything that could be valued in terms of money. Id. Additionally, the court determined that the fact that such matters as loss of care, training, advice, guidance, and education were not readily reduced to a present money value did not mean that those factors should not have been taken into consideration. Id. Therefore, the court concluded that services, care, and guidance were monetary losses. Id.

The court next looked to the question of the sufficiency of proof necessary to support an award of monetary damages for loss of services, care, and guidance suffered by a surviving spouse and child. Id. The court noted that the plaintiffs in wrongful death actions were not required to prove their losses with mathematical certainty. Id. at 945. What was necessary was that each claim for a specific element of damage be supported by evidence sufficient to permit the jury to determine (1) that the plaintiff in fact suffered a compensable loss or injury; and (2) a fair and reasonable monetary award for that loss or injury. Id. Moreover, the court determined that the burden of proof could be satisfied simply through a showing of the nature and extent of the loss asserted (such as that the deceased spouse regularly performed household services.) Id.

In the plaintiff’s case, the court concluded that he satisfied his burden of proof by showing the nature and extent of his losses. Id. at 948. Therefore, the hospital’s arguments that services, care, and guidance were not monetary losses and that the plaintiff did not satisfy his burden of proof were both disproven. Id.

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