Enerpipe truck driver Jimmy Harris couldn't have anticipated the full legal ramification of negligently rear-ending a vehicle in Wichita during 2010 and injuring passenger Diana Hilburn, who had undergone back surgery nine days earlier.

Hilburn required a second surgery and suffered chronic pain that led to a lawsuit against the pipeline company. A Sedgwick County jury awarded her $301,000 in noneconomic damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish. A district court judge, following state law and judicial precedent, slashed that amount to match a $250,000 cap in place at that time.

She challenged constitutionality of Kansas' monetary restriction on grounds it conflicted with the state constitution's Bill of Rights, which declared "the right of trial by jury shall be inviolate." The Kansas Supreme Court agreed with her in June, and set on edge Kansas businesses and their lobbyists, as well as personal injury lawyers and their clients. Scope of the ruling continues to be hotly debated, leaving Kansas legislators in a crossfire without a political compass to follow.

Eric Stafford, vice president and lobbyist with the Kansas Chamber, said lifting the cap damaged the bottom line of Kansas companies and would drive up consumers' insurance costs. He urged the Legislature to respond to the Supreme Court in a way minimizing new leverage gained by injured people who file lawsuits, but the Kansas Chamber has yet to settle on a strategy for thwarting the court.

"We're standing here in support of restoring some sort of cap structure," he told an interim legislative committee of House and Senate members. "We're doing that to protect against excessive and frivolous litigation."

Attorney David Morantz, speaking on behalf of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, said the Supreme Court's decision was long overdue. The statute declared unconstitutional had infringed on the fundamental right to be heard by a jury, he said. The high court justly replaced politicians' generic view of damages with a jury's precise judgment about an injury case, he said.

"You know, voters, we know better than you," Morantz said while characterizing decades of legislative rationale. "We know better than you how to evaluate these cases."

A majority of the Legislature's special committee on judicial matters, while concerned about potential runaway juries, recommended lawmakers take no immediate position but continue to study results of the Supreme Court's change in course. The same committee recommended a constitutional amendment to affirm no constitutional right to abortion exists in the state's Bill of Rights and suggested legislators consider options for altering the method of selecting members of the Supreme Court.

Kurt Scott, president of the Kansas Medical Mutual Insurance Co., said the Supreme Court could have been more precise in outlining their intent. It struck down the cap on noneconomic injuries, but that 4-2 decision was accompanied by a news release saying it didn't apply to medical malpractice cases. Scott said further litigation would determine limits of the decision.

"This decision is anything but cut and dried and clear," Scott said. "Especially, as we believe, as it relates to medical malpractice insurance."

Rachelle Colombo, who lobbies for the Kansas Medical Society, said the organization was operating on the belief the Supreme Court didn't attach the decision to malpractice claims against doctors, nurses and other health professionals. She urged legislators to proceed cautiously to avoid unnecessary disruption of Kansas' market for malpractice insurance.

"What we are asking you to do is to wait," she said.

In the late 1980s, Kansas lawmakers imposed a noneconomic cap based on concern liability insurance was too costly. The Supreme Court upheld constitutionality of the law in 1990, but questioned in 2012 lack of an inflationary index associated with the maximum payout. The 2014 Legislature responded by gradually raising the cap, which would have reached $300,000 by 2022.

The June decision was unusual because it featured a three-justice lead opinion and a lone justice's concurring opinion to reach the majority's fourth vote. Two justices dissented. The chief justice recused himself and no temporary replacement was appointed. In the near future, Gov. Laura Kelly will select two new members of the Supreme Court and realignment could alter perspective on caps.

"It's really unclear how a full seven-member court might rule if presented with a different approach to limiting noneconomic damages," said Jeffrey Chanay, the state's chief deputy attorney general.