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University of Kansas Hospital Authority v. Board of County Comm'rs of Unified Government of Wyandotte County

Supreme Court of Kansas

May 22, 2015

UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS HOSPITAL AUTHORITY and KANSAS UNIVERSITY PHYSICIANS, INC., Appellees,
v.
THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE UNIFIED GOVERNMENT OF WYANDOTTE COUNTY/KANSAS CITY, KANSAS, Appellee,
v.
STATE OF KANSAS-KANSAS HIGHWAY PATROL, Appellant

Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 49 Kan.App.2d 449, 313 P.3d 60 (2013) .

Appeal from Wyandotte District Court; DAVID W. BOAL, judge.

SYLLABUS

BY THE COURT

1. The plain language of K.S.A. 22-4612(a) imposes a duty on the Kansas Highway Patrol to reimburse a health care provider for services provided to an indigent person in the custody of the Kansas Highway Patrol. K.S.A. 22-4612(a) supersedes the holding in Wesley Med. Center v. City of Wichita, 237 Kan. 807, 703 P.2d 818 (1985), which rejected custody as the touchstone for determining if a law enforcement agency must pay for a prisoner's medical treatment.

2. Under K.S.A. 22-4612(a), the obligation of one of the statutorily specified governmental entities, such as the Kansas Highway Patrol, to pay for the medical expenses of an indigent criminal offender is initially triggered by the entity having custody of the indigent offender at the time the decision is made to obtain medical treatment for the offender.

3. A person is in custody when under arrest, although arrest might not always be necessary to establish custody.

Derenda J. Mitchell, assistant attorney general, argued the cause, and was on the briefs for appellant.

E. Lou Bjorgaard Probasco, of Probasco & Associates, P.A., of Topeka, argued the cause, and Jennifer Martin Smith, of the same firm, was with her on the briefs for appellees University of Kansas Hospital Authority and Kansas University Physicians, Inc.

Colin S. Welsh, assistant counsel, Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, argued the cause, and Brandelyn K. Nichols, assistant counsel, of the same office, was with him on the brief for appellee Board of County Commissioners of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas.

OPINION

Page 603

[301 Kan. 994] LUCKERT, J.

The question presented in this case mirrors one addressed in our decision in Wesley Med. Center v. City of Wichita, 237 Kan. 807, 703 P.2d 818 (1985). There, a hospital attempted to collect payment from a city and a county for the medical expenses incurred in treating an indigent criminal offender brought to the hospital while in the custody of the city's police officers. The city argued the county sheriff was responsible for the care of prisoners and the county should pay the medical bills. The county argued the sheriff had never obtained physical custody of the offender and the city should pay because it did have custody. This court rejected the physical custody theory. Instead, this court imposed liability on Kansas counties for any medical expenses incurred as a consequence of and following the arrest of an indigent offender if the offender was arrested for violating a state law and in due course was charged with a state crime and delivered to the county's custody. 237 Kan. at 815.

In this appeal, we again must consider who must pay for medical treatment provided to an indigent offender for injuries sustained during an arrest-a law enforcement agency with physical custody of the offender (this time the Kansas Highway Patrol [KHP]) or a county where the offender is ultimately jailed while awaiting trial on felony charges. The issue arises anew because of the 2006 enactment of K.S.A. 22-4612, which addresses payment of medical expenses for indigent offenders in the custody of the KHP or several other governmental entities. The district court and the Court of Appeals in

Page 604

University of Kan. Hosp. Auth. v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Unified Gov't, 49 Kan.App.2d 449, 454, 313 P.3d 60 (2013), held K.S.A. 22-4612(a) altered the Wesley holding by making KHP liable to pay a health care provider for health care services rendered to persons in the custody of the agency.

Both courts considered a second issue that flows from that determination: Was the indigent offender in this case in KHP's custody so as to trigger liability for the medical expenses at issue? Both [301 Kan. 995] the district court and the Court of Appeals determined that KHP had custody of the offender and was liable. 49 Kan.App.2d at 455-56.

On petition for review from the Court of Appeals' decision, we affirm the district court and Court of Appeals on both issues.

Facts and Procedural Background

The facts of this case are not in dispute. A KHP trooper stopped Wayne Thomas for speeding in Wyandotte County. When the trooper exited his patrol vehicle, Thomas sped away. An ensuing high-speed chase ended when Thomas crashed head-on into a tree. The trooper removed Thomas from his car, put him on the ground, handcuffed him, and formally placed him under arrest. Although the trooper called for an ambulance, Thomas initially refused any medical services.

After the trooper placed Thomas into his patrol vehicle and started filling out an arrest report, Thomas began complaining of pain and asked to be taken to the hospital. The trooper then drove Thomas-who remained in handcuffs-to the emergency room at Kansas University Medical Center and escorted him inside. The trooper did not remove the handcuffs until the nurses began to examine Thomas. The trooper stayed at the hospital for about an hour until the nursing staff reported that they would be keeping Thomas overnight. Thereafter, the trooper instituted a " police hold" on Thomas, which meant that he wanted the hospital to call him before releasing Thomas.

The hospital called the trooper the next day, and he picked up Thomas and took him directly to the Wyandotte County Jail. No KHP officers guarded Thomas during his hospital stay, although there was an officer from the Kansas University Police Department in Thomas' room when the trooper arrived to take Thomas to jail.

During the hospital stay, Thomas-whose indigence the parties do not challenge-incurred $23,197.29 in medical charges from the University of Kansas Hospital Authority and $2,311 from the Kansas University Physicians, Inc. (hereinafter collectively referred to as Hospital Authority). The Hospital Authority demanded payment from both the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas [301 Kan. 996] City, Kansas, (County) and KHP. ...


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