Kansas Court of Appeals No. 120,345; December 11, 2020
A panel of the Court of Appeals has recently issued an opinion and it is hopefully the last word in a civil case concerning which law enforcement agency truly owes an old hospital bill of an injured suspect. The case involved the chase of a murder suspect, a hostage situation, and an arrest where the suspect was injured. The main question was when there are multiple agencies involved in an event where a detained suspect is injured, which agency is responsible for the medical bill?
In 2009, multiple KHP, Geary County, Shawnee County, and Topeka personnel were involved in a chase. After the vehicle was disabled, the suspect ran into a house and held the occupants hostage. KHP set up a command post and ordered a precautionary ambulance. Supervisors from the agencies met and agreed on coordination of the differing on-scene units and skills. In the end, a tactical unit entered the house and arrested the suspect. During the arrest one of the officers’ weapons accidently discharged striking the suspect. Officers from multiple agencies traveled with the suspect to Stormont Vail Hospital, stayed during surgery, and did guard duty.
The hospital treatment bill was $41,700.00. Years of legal wrangling followed. Many years.
The question? Which agency was responsible for the medical bill under K.S.A. 22-4612. In pertinent part, that statute says: “[A] county, a city, a county or city law enforcement agency, a county department of corrections or the Kansas Highway Patrol shall be liable to pay a health care provider for health care services rendered to persons in the custody of such agencies the lesser of the actual amount billed by such health care provider or the medicare rate.”
First, the panel affirmed an earlier holding that under that statute “custody” includes both formal arrest and detention that is the equivalent of an arrest.
Second, what happens when there are multiple agencies involved in the arrest? Which agency has “custody?” The Court said that “[i]n a coordinated police action involving multiple law enforcement agencies, the agency ‘with operational control’ has the obligation under K.S.A. 22-4612 to pay for medical treatment requested during the action for an injured person taken into custody . . . [s]o if the response team acted in something other than a ‘willy-nilly exercise’ . . . then the test for operational control is simply this: Who was ‘the captain of the team?’”
But, wait, in this case the officer who caused the injury was not employed by the “captain of the team” agency. Does that make a difference? No, the panel said. “The obligation to pay under K.S.A. 22-4612 does not have a fault-based component to it.” The captain is still responsible.
Left unanswered by the opinion are those noted “willy-nilly” situations that involve less time and less coordination between responding agencies. And, they happen all the time. Agency heads now have something else to think about and plan for.