The Florida Supreme Court recently took on the issue of collateral source evidence in Joerg v. State Farm, a case stemming from a serious bicycle accident injury.
The collateral source rule, also sometimes referred to as the collateral source doctrine, prohibits the admission of evidence that a plaintiff or victim has received compensation from some source other than defendant. The idea is a defendant shouldn’t have to pay less for a tortious act just because a plaintiff had health insurance or collected workers’ compensation.
Still, since 1984, the court had allowed a limited admission of evidence regarding certain kinds of free or low-cost future collateral source benefits. But that has now changed. In the Joerg case, the court ruled all defendants are barred from introducing evidence of collateral source benefits plaintiffs may receive in the future. These include Medicare and Medicaid. Given that almost all Americans will at least collect on Medicare at some point in their lives, the decision has widespread implications in personal injury law.
In many personal injury lawsuits in Florida, recovery of medical expenses – including future expenses – is a big piece of the puzzle.
According to court records in Joerg, plaintiff here is a mentally disabled adult who lived with his parents his whole life and never worked. As a result of his situation, he received Medicare for medical bills. One day in November 2007, plaintiff was riding his bicycle when he was struck by a motor vehicle.
He filed a negligence action against the driver, as well as with respondant in this case, who was his own uninsured motorist carrier. Before trial, plaintiff withdrew his action against driver and pressed his case against the insurer.
His attorneys filed a motion to exclude all evidence of any collateral source of evidence to which plaintiff was entitled – including discounted benefits under the federal programs. Trial court granted this motion, but only with respect to past medical bills. When attorneys moved for reconsideration, trial court vacated that prior ruling and allowed the insurer to introduce evidence of future medical bills for specific treatment or services available to all citizens, regardless of wealth. However, it prohibited insurer from presenting evidence of future Medicare or Medicaid benefits.
Following a four-day trial, jurors awarded plaintiff $1.5 million – including nearly $470,000 in future medical expenses.
Insurer appealed, and the Second District affirmed on all issues – except with regard to the admissibility of future medical benefits. The court ruled that because plaintiff’s federal benefits were free and unearned, they should not be excluded by the collateral source rule. District court reversed on the issue of future damages and remanded.
Plaintiff then appealed to state supreme court. Justices held it was improper to introduce evidence regarding Medicare benefits because some are required to reimburse the agency for future benefits, and plus, there is no guarantee of these benefits. The court also ruled it was speculative to attempt to calculate damage awards based on benefits plaintiff hadn’t yet received and might never receive. Federal benefits – and eligibility for those benefits – are as always uncertain because they are subject to limited public funding or legislative action that’s unpredictable.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Joerg v. State Farm, Oct. 15, 2015, Florida Supreme Court
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Roma v. Moreira – Duty of Landlord to Prevent Tenant Injuries, Nov. 24, 2015, Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Attorney Blog