December 5th. The Kansas Supreme Court has issued its decision in Hale v. Brown, No. 97,232, the Court declined to widen the type of action which could give rise to liability in negligence cases, as urged by one Mary Hale. In a unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Rosen the decision of the Court of Appeals and the District Court to dismiss Hale’s suit against a Jason Packard and the Topeka Electric Construction for allegedly causing her car to be struck by Judy Brown, resulting in injuries to Ms Hale. Packard had passed out and crashed his vehicle (owned by his employer, Topeka Electric Construction) on I-470 in Topeka. Some 35 minutes after the accident, Hale slowed down while driving past and was hit from behind by Brown, who did not. Hale has settled her claim against Brown already.
Hale argued that due to Kansas adopting the principle of comparative negligence in personal injury cases, the old common law principle that a tort must have a proximate cause no longer applied. She also argued that since this was the case the attribution of fault (and compensation) between Brown and Packard becomes a fact-based decision to be left to the Jury. The Court rejected both arguments, since proximate cause was still a valid concept in its case law and since the intervening time between Packard’s accident and Hale’s meant that the chain of events between the accidents had been broken. Since this was an appeal of a motion to dismiss the Court based its ruling on an assumption that the events were entirely as alleged by Hale.
As a result of this decision, the Kansas Courts will not be flooded with many more lawsuits seeking to take advantage of a loosening of personal injury law, something which was a real possibility had the Court ruled the other way.