WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — An insurance company must reimburse a Kansas man for the personal care his wife provided after he was injured in an automobile accident, the state Supreme Court ruled in rejecting that spouses are required to provide such support without compensation.
The decision handed down Tuesday overturns a Court of Appeals panel ruling that GEICO General Insurance Co. did not have to pay insured customer Royce Williams because the wife's obligation to help her husband “was incurred as a result of the marital relationship itself.”
The state's highest court disagreed and reinstated the $2,625 in benefits that the district court had initially awarded Williams.
“GEICO in this situation was relying on very archaic principles that a wife has a duty to serve her husband, but that is just not sound reasoning and the Kansas Supreme Court agreed,” said Dustin DeVaughn, a Wichita attorney whose firm represented Williams.
The argument penalizes married people as well as poor people who don't have the ability to go out and hire people to help them, he said.
“That is why we drew the line. As you can tell in the decision, we took this case to the Supreme Court for $2,625 and this was a huge financial loss to us to fight this fight for $2,625,” DeVaughn said. “But it is something that is extremely important to our clients, and we are seeing time and again them being taken advantage of — and we aren't going to tolerate it.”
After the automobile collision, Williams had undergone surgery and required physical rehabilitation. His physician determined he was “disabled and unable to perform his regular duties at home and needed to have a caregiver provide such duties,” according to the ruling.
The doctor specified he could not do yard work, shovel snow, wash dishes, clean the bathroom , dust, take out the trash, clean his vehicle and could only prepare meals if sitting down, the justices noted.
The court also pointed out in the ruling that before the accident, the couple lived together but maintained separate finances and work schedules.
After Williams came from the rehabilitation hospital, he and his wife, Mary, agreed she would provide regular caregiver duties for $25 a day — services that included assistance with meal preparation, personal hygiene and bathing, laundry, administering medication and driving.
His wife spent five hours a day doing this between December 2015 and March 2016. She kept itemized records of her services, indicating she often had to be absent from work during that time.
“The amount involved in this case was obviously small, but in order for the court to get to the result it wanted it had to hold — for the first time as far as I know under Kansas law — that spouses can form a debtor-creditor relationship with each other based on the services they provide within a marital relationship," said Lyndon Vix, the attorney representing GEICO. “I don't think we have had a holding to that effect before.”
The parties conceded that reimbursement by GEICO would have been required under state law had the same care services been provided by anyone else, according to the ruling.
“I know they did this on principle and that is admirable on their part,” Vix said of the lawsuit brought by opposing counsel. “But I am not sure the principle is as noble as they make it out to be.”
The Kansas Automobile Injury Reparations Act, commonly called the no-fault insurance law, requires policies in the state to cover “substitution benefits” that were at issue in this litigation, court documents show. Such benefits pay for services that the injured person would have performed himself but for the injury, subject to a maximum of $25 per day for no longer than 365 days.