A damages award in a personal injury case serves the specific purpose of making the victim “whole.” That simply means the victim should be compensated for every loss that was incurred as a result of the injury suffered. Typically, the major component of a damages award in a personal injury claim is for medical treatment for the injury. Reimbursement for medical expenses can include the cost of treatment already received and estimated costs for any future medical treatment that may be required. As any Joplin personal injury law firm recognizes, proving this type of damages is usually accomplished by submitting copies of the victim’s medical records. But, there are advantages and disadvantages to doing this which should be considered.
The “collateral source” rule in Missouri
The collateral source rule has been established by case law in the Missouri courts. Basically, the rule is applied to personal injury cases to keep defendants from introducing evidence of collateral source payments for medical treatment. In other words, payments made by health insurance policies, for example, could be used to reduce the amount of damages the injured party would receive. The rule, as it was originally established, forces the defendant to be held liable for his or her negligence without benefiting from a collateral source.
Changes to Missouri’s collateral source rule
While the collateral source rule still exists in the Missouri case law, it has been limited in some very important ways. First, the collateral source rule has been modified to prevent defendants from introducing into evidence the actual source of collateral payments, e.g., private health insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. However, defendants are now allowed to tell the jury the amount of collateral payments. That means, if the injured party only paid $5,000 of the medical expenses and the other $10,000 was paid by health insurance, the defendant is allowed to tell the jury those amounts. For this reason, your Joplin personal injury law firm may consider whether claiming the medical expenses is really worth the trouble.
Not introducing your medical bills makes them irrelevant
Insurance defense attorneys and their clients are often eager to introduce medical bills in personal injury cases because they can be a distraction, especially with the nuances of the collateral source rule and required elements of proof. However, a receive Missouri case has made that more difficult for the defense. Essentially, if the injured party does not introduce their medical bills, they are irrelevant and cannot then be introduced by the defendant. The ruling in the Missouri case says that a trial court cannot require admission of medical bills in a case when the plaintiff did not present them as part of their initial pleadings.
To put it another way, if the plaintiff does not make a claim for recovery of medical expenses, then the evidence of those medical costs is irrelevant. This is an important ruling because it means the injured party is not forced to deal with the distraction of medical bills and collateral sources if to do so would not benefit their case. This is a decision that you should let your Joplin personal injury law firm help you make.
Omitting medical expenses from your claim may be wise
In cases where bringing a specific claim for reimbursement of medical expenses may not be worth the trouble of dealing with the defendant’s argument for collateral source payments, omitting those expenses from the lawsuit may be wise. If the claim for medical expenses is not substantial, then the claim may be more of a distraction to the jury. You do not want the jury to decide the damages award solely based on the medical expenses, without considering the actual injuries to the plaintiff. Some people take the position that basing the value of an injury on what health care providers designate as the cost is not always appropriate. Ultimately, your Joplin personal injury law firm should help you make the decision whether or not to omit this claim.
The effect of the new collateral source rule on settlement negotiations
The reality is that the majority of personal injury cases settle rather than go to trial. Typically, insurance companies negotiate rather low with injured parties whose medical expenses were paid primarily by private health insurance. Insurance companies would rather take the risk of bringing the claims to a jury where they can argue the collateral source and reduce the plaintiff’s final damages. When it is time to consider settling your personal injury claim, let your Joplin personal injury law firm help you decide how to proceed.
If you have questions regarding medical records, damages or any other personal injury matters in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us toll-free at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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