Proving the amount of damages arising out of a car accident, such as medical expenses, can become complicated when insurance coverage is involved. A personal injury lawyer understands the proof necessary to establish these damages and can present evidence persuasively on your behalf. Recently, a November 17, 2017 case before the Supreme Court of Tennessee provided further insight regarding the admissibility of evidence of insurance discounts to rebut the plaintiff’s proof of damages in a Tennessee car accident case.
The plaintiff in the case was seriously injured in an automobile accident with the defendant and suffered severe and permanent injuries. She filed a lawsuit against the defendant to recover her past and future medical bills. Before trial, the defendants filed a motion to prevent the plaintiff from presenting evidence of her full, undiscounted medical bills. Due to the common practice of hospitals and medical providers billing patients for medical services in full and then accepting a discounted amount from the patient’s private insurance company, the undiscounted bills sent to the patient do not reflect what is actually being paid in the marketplace. The defendants argued that the plaintiff’s undiscounted medical bills were, therefore, unreasonable by law and that the amount paid by the insurance company should be used instead. The trial court granted the motion. After the Court of Appeals reversed, the issue was taken up by the Supreme Court of Tennessee.
In Tennessee, a person who is injured by another person’s negligence may recover damages from the other person for all past, present, and prospective harm. The burden is on the plaintiff to prove their damages. At issue on appeal were the plaintiff’s past medical expenses. For this type of award, the plaintiff must prove that the medical bills incurred because of the defendant’s negligence were both necessary and reasonable.
Tennessee follows the collateral source rule, which excludes evidence that reveals the plaintiff was compensated by sources other than the defendant, i.e., her insurance company. The collateral source rule also prevents any reduction in the amount of the plaintiff’s damages award due to payment from other sources. This rule is based on the principle that tortfeasors should be responsible for the full amount of harm they cause and that their liability to an injured person should not be reduced by payments from collateral sources.
The court analyzed a recent decision concerning medical liens, holding that the definition of “reasonable charges” under the Hospital Lien Act, referring to the actual amount paid by insurance companies, did not apply to determine “reasonable medical expenses” in personal injury cases. In addition, the court concluded that the collateral source rule applied to exclude evidence of the plaintiff’s private insurance benefits. Consequently, the plaintiff could submit evidence of her full, undiscounted medical bills as proof of reasonable medical expenses. The court further held that the defendants were precluded from submitting evidence of discounted rates accepted by medical providers from the insurer to rebut the plaintiff’s proof that the full, undiscounted charges are reasonable. The case will now return to the trial court for further proceedings.
The Nashville accident attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard provide legal representation to victims of negligence and their families. Our dedicated litigation team has successfully handled car accident claims, wrongful death actions, medical malpractice lawsuits, and many other personal injury cases for our clients. If you have been injured in an accident, contact Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard at (615) 800-7096 or online and schedule your free consultation.