Yesterday, the Appellate Court issued another ruling in consolidated cases
that unquestionably will further limit an injured person's ability
to prove at trial just how much the defendant's negligence has cost her.
For several years, my colleagues and I have talked about a series of court
rulings that have chipped away at our ability to talk to juries about
the true cost of fixing what the defendant broke. These cases have slowly
but surely taken evidence out of the hands of the 12 people who should
see ALL of the evidence by limiting evidence of the billed amount of a
plaintiff's medical bills. Everyone knows health insurance companies
don't pay the amount your doctor or hospital bills you. Everyone knows
health insurance companies have negotiated reduced payments (typically
in exchange for more patients, faster billing and payment, etc). Why not
give the jury the same info you and I get on the "Explanation of
Benefits" form we receive after seeing the doctor?
Last year, this trend escalated with the decision in Howell v. Hamilton
Meats, which stated that only the amount actually paid by your private
health insurance could be told to the jury, not the amount your doctor
or hospital billed to your health insurance. Howell at least left open
the possibility that the jury could still hear about the true cost of
your medical expenses (suppose you lose your health insurance??), for
instance in asking the jury to award you the cost of future medical care
or as a basis for calculating your pain and suffering.
In the decision yesterday, however, the court found that the amounts billed
for the plaintiffs' past medical care are completely irrelevant and
should not be told to the jury, not for any purpose at all. Nevermind
that several amicus briefs were filed on just this issue: let the jury
hear the amount billed, and let them hear the amount that the hospital
agreed to accept as payment in full from the plaintiffs' health insurance.
Give the jury all the information and let them make their decisions with
all of the evidence in front of them. Forget it.
Hopefully, this decision will not be in the mainstream.