How a Recent TN Supreme Court Decision Impacts Damages in Personal Injury Cases
November 22nd, 2017 by Attorney John Colvin
A recent decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court has big implications for personal injury cases in the state. You might not have seen it on local TV coverage, read about it in your newspapers or heard discussions about it on the radio, but this decision is an important one for so many people that have filed personal injury claims to receive adequate compensation after an injury.
The clarification from the Tennessee Supreme Court stems from a personal injury case out of Crockett County in which the plaintiff, Jean Dedmon, sued for injuries she sustained in a car accident, attaching the bills from healthcare providers to her legal complaint.
Meanwhile, a separate case before the Supreme Court, West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corporation, involved a hospital’s legal claim for the full amount of patients’ unpaid medical expenses. The Court in West observed that most hospitals routinely send bills to all patients, regardless of whether or not the patients have insurance. This case was relevant to the Dedmon case because it impacted the amount of money Dedmon could seek in compensation.
The central question being watched by trial attorneys in these cases was this: Can a plaintiff seek the full amount of the medical expenses billed by the medical providers associated with their injury or are they limited to the amount actually paid to the medical provider by a third party such as a personal health insurance plan? The Court clarified that in personal injury cases involving a hospital lien, payments and other benefits received by plaintiffs from third parties that do not come from the defendant shall not reduce the liability of the defendant. Therefore, an injured party in Tennessee is allowed to claim the full amount of their medical expenses and not just what was paid by an insurance plan or third party, regardless of what amount was ultimately written off by the provider.
According to a press release from the Tennessee Supreme Court, “The rule also prevents defendants from telling juries about plaintiffs’ insurance and other such benefits because it might cause juries to think the plaintiffs have already been paid for their injuries.”
The Court acknowledged that the complexity of healthcare costs played a major role in their decision-making process. The fact that so many factors are at play in healthcare pricing means that “it is evident that medical expenses cannot be valued in the same way one would value a house or a car,” the Court said.
This development does not constitute a “new” rule, but rather a clarification of what is known as the “collateral source rule.” It essentially means that a plaintiff won’t be hamstrung by defendants’ attempts to reduce their liability simply because of health insurance payments or other medical expense payments provided to the injured party.
This is a significant decision for victims of negligence in Tennessee and their families by barring liability insurance carriers and the insurance defense bar from benefiting from the health insurance policies and premiums paid for by working Tennessee families to cover their medical expenses for injuries and disabilities. Without such legal protection afforded by the Tennessee Supreme Court, negligent parties would benefit from reductions, write offs and/or payments just because injured plaintiffs and their families in Tennessee might have personal health insurance to cover such expenses. Similarly without the “collateral source rule” in Tennessee, a defendant could reap a windfall from a Plaintiff who invested their hard earned wages in premiums for a personal health insurance plan to cover potential medical costs for injury, which would also create a justice system where a defendant is found to have greater liability for damages whenever a Plaintiff is found not to have invested in such a health insurance plan to cover potential injuries. The Dedmon decision does not change the requirement that a plaintiff still has to prove damages and costs before a jury. However, this clarification ensures that a case won’t be burdened with convoluted arguments about insurance costs, benefits and their impact on a defendant’s liability.
If you have suffered a serious injury due to a negligent driver, we encourage you to reach out to learn more about your legal options. John R. Colvin serves clients in the Tennessee Valley region. His services help clients cope with and recover from the hardships brought on by disability, injury, or the loss of a loved one. Contact John R. Colvin, either online or by calling 1-931-962-1044, to request your free, no-obligation case consultation.