Getting the injured party fully compensated for the cost of future medical care is a primary concern in most personal injury cases. The Plaintiff has one shot in court to get the jury to award an adequate amount of money to cover the cost of these future medical expenses. Expert and lay evidence is presented on the issue. Once the decision is made, the Plaintiff cannot return to court to seek more money.
It is not uncommon for medical charges to exceed the amount medical providers willingly accept as payment. This is typically the case, for example, for payments made by health insurance and Medicare. Providers often agree with health insurance carriers to accept reduced payments as payment in full. Medicare, on the other hand, has a schedule of allowable charges for every service, usually well below usual and customary charges. A provider that accepts Medicare cannot balance bill the patient.
The courts and legislature have considered whether evidence of these collateral sources of payment should be presented to a jury for its consideration in determining future medical expenses. In my opinion, some of the conclusions are disturbing.
In Gormley v. GTE Prods. Corp., 587 So. 2d 455 (Fla. 1991), Florida's Supreme Court announced that Florida's common law collateral source rule "functions as both a rule of damages and a rule of evidence." Id. at 457.
The rule of damages "is designed to prevent tortfeasors from benefiting unjustly from the injured parties' receipt of collateral benefits for their injuries and it avoids penalizing parties who purchase insurance, which would create a disincentive to buy coverage in the first instance. ... The rule also maintains a level of deterrence against tortfeasors that would be lost if awards against them were reduced by collateral sources, and the rule obviously promotes full recovery for injured parties versus some reduced or diminished level of compensation." State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Joerg.
In contrast, the rule of evidence is based on a different policy concern. It was designed to prevent the introduction of evidence that "misleads the jury on the issue of liability and, thus, subverts the jury process. Because a jury's fair assessment of liability is fundamental to justice, its verdict on liability must be free from doubt, based on conviction, and not a function of compromise." Gormley at 458.