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Kansas Court of Appeals Upholds "Physical Injury" Requirement for Claim of PTSD

Recently the Kansas Court of Appeals declined to overturn the “physical injury rule” requirement for post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) claim for damages. On June 12, 2015 the Kansas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. In the case of Majors v. Hillebrand, No. 112, 153 the Court ruled that the existing physical injury rule requires that in order to succeed on a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff must first establish that he or she has a qualified and physical injury under Kansas law. Said physical injury must (1) directly result from the emotional distress allegedly caused by the defendant’s negligence; and (2) appear within a short span of time after the emotional disturbance. Kansas has long held that a plaintiff cannot recover for emotional distress caused by the defendant’s negligence unless that emotional distress is accompanied by or results in physical injury to the plaintiff. The Kansas Court of Appeals reaffirmed the case law and stated “Kansas has consistently held that generalized physical symptoms of emotional distress, such as those associated with PTSD are insufficient to state a cause of action for a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.” In so holding, the Court found that symptoms such as shock, emotional pain, feelings of guilt, nightmares and depression due to witnessing an accident are not compensable physical injuries and moreover, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, crying, shaking, sexual problems and feelings of stress caused by anxiety are also insufficient. Likewise, lack of sleep, reoccurring dreams and general fatigue are not compensable injuries.

In opposing this existing rule, the Plaintiff/Appellant argued that “times have changed” and that Kansas was in a very small minority of states that continue to apply the physical injury rule. The appellate court found that they have no authority to overrule established precedent of the Kansas Supreme Court absent some indication that it [the Supreme Court] is departing from its previous position. The Kansas Court of Appeals found that it was bound by the doctrine of stare decisis and ruled that it is recognized under this doctrine that once a point of law has been established by a court, that point of law will generally be followed by the same court and all courts of lower rank in subsequent cases where the same legal issue is raised. The Court went on to state that the application of stare decisis insures stability and continuity – demonstrating a continuing legitimacy of judicial review.