Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matt Arnold answers the question: “What if the accident was my fault?”
“Collateral source rule” may not mean much to most people. The legal phrase, though unfamiliar, is incredibly important in the context of personal injury cases. The Tennessee Supreme Court recently heard a case on the subject that captured the attention of the local legal community. In that case, the Supreme Court had to decide whether the collateral source rule, a bedrock principle of personal injury law, would remain in place. The decision has important implications in Tennessee and elsewhere.
What is the collateral source rule?
We should start with a very short explanation of the collateral source rule. The legal principle, which Tennessee and many other states have followed for decades, says that payments and other benefits that do not come from the defendant should not count towards reducing a personal injury verdict. These collateral (or outside) sources of money or other benefits cannot be used to offset the damages suffered by a personal injury plaintiff.
When is the collateral source rule implicated?
This is most commonly seen in cases involving insured plaintiffs. Insurance is a very important collateral source and courts have long said that insurance cannot be factored into a jury’s decision-making process when awarding damages. That means that defendants cannot bring up whether a plaintiff is insured and, if so, how much of the plaintiff’s medical bills may been paid or reduced by the insurance company. This has meant that in Tennessee, and many other states, plaintiffs are able to submit as proof of their medical expenses undiscounted medical bills.
Why did the Supreme Court get involved?
This practice of submitting undiscounted medical bills has long irritated defendants in personal injury cases. They have actively sought to include evidence of a plaintiff’s insurance as a means of lowering any possible damage awards. In one recent Tennessee personal injury case, that is exactly what one defendant did. The defense argued that a previous state Supreme Court case should be applied to plaintiffs in the personal injury realm and only discounted medical bills should be put forward as proof of medical expenses. At the trial court level, the argument won out, with the judge holding that personal injury plaintiffs could only submit the discounted, contractually agreed upon rates as proof of medical expenses. The plaintiff appealed, eventually putting the case before the Tennessee Supreme Court.
The Court disagreed with the trial court, saying that plaintiffs ought to be allowed to submit the undiscounted medical bills in court. Though the defendants argued that these bills were unfairly inflated and that the discounted amount better reflects the fair market value of medical care, the Court remained unconvinced. The Court held that discounted rates are no more definitively fair market than any other price given the complexity of the healthcare market. Moreover, to allow these discounted rates to be brought before a jury would undermine the purpose of the collateral source rule, something that only a few states in the country have ever permitted. To allow the discounted bills before a jury would treat an insured plaintiff differently (and worse) than an uninsured plaintiff, something the Supreme Court was absolutely unwilling to do.
The Court did acknowledge that the collateral source rule is imperfect. Though it has flaws, the defendants failed to propose a better alternative. This means that going forward, defendants will not be able to enter discounted medical rates into evidence. Though defendants are welcome to attack medical expenses as unreasonable, they must do so within the bounds of the collateral source rule.
If you or someone close to you has been injured, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today who can help you receive the compensation to which you may be entitled. Contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC for a free consultation, call at 704-370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
The skilled personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to maximizing the financial recovery and obtaining justice for every personal injury client injured by another party’s negligence. The issues our personal injury clients may be facing include, but are not limited to, slip and fall injuries, wrongful death, product liability, catastrophic injuries, dog bite claims, car and truck accident injuries, motorcycle injuries, traumatic brain injury (TBI), nursing home negligence, spinal cord injury, boating accidents, and defective medical device injury. Our personal injury attorneys understand the devastating impact such an injury can have on a person’s life, and that the effects so often go beyond physical pain and suffering. The personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are dedicated to helping clients determine the strength of their claims, and to aggressively pursuing the means necessary to achieve the best possible end result for each client’s particular situation.
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