Florida’s Second DCA Allows Consideration of Governmental/Charitable Medical Expenses in Personal Injury Cases

dollars.jpgIndividuals seriously injured through the negligence of others often require medical care and treatment long after the case is resolved. Settlements and jury verdicts must take these future medical expenses into account.

Some individuals harmed through the negligence of others are eligible for medical care through governmental or charitable services for a pre-existing disability unrelated to the tort claim. The most common of these services is Medicare.

Governmental and charitable reimbursements are always a fraction of a medical provider’s usual and customary charges. While the services may cover medical expenses related to the accident, there are no guarantees as to what will be covered and for how long. Given these factors, should juries be allowed to consider evidence of the reduced rates in calculating future medical expenses.

The answer in Florida appears to be Yes.

In State Farm v. Joerg, the trial court did not allow State Farm to introduce evidence that Joerg’s future medical expenses might be reduced under the Medicare program. The trial court’s decision was reversed on appeal.

Relying on Florida Physician’s Insurance Reciprocal v. Stanley, 452 So. 2d 514 (1984), a Florida Supreme Court case, Florida’s 2nd DCA held that since Joerg did not earn the Medicare benefit, the jury should be allowed to consider Medicare’s rates in calculating future medical expenses.

Given the uncertainties associated with governmental and charitable services, it can easily be argued that the decision is unfair. Once the jury has spoken, the case cannot be reopened in the future to compensate the victim for additional medical expenses the jury failed to anticipate.

Thankfully, case law allows the Plaintiff to present evidence regarding the uncertainties and differences in quality of care available between government and charitable services and private care. To make this point, the Joerg court cited language from Florida Physician’s:

This opinion should not be interpreted as limiting a plaintiff suffering from a particular continuing disability to recover only the future cost of the free or low cost governmental or charitable care available to all persons with that disability. Evidence of availability, cost, and quality of such care is relevant to assist the jury in determining the reasonable cost of the plaintiff’s future care. The jury remains free to find that the publicly available services do not meet the plaintiff’s future needs. The jury may find private care at higher cost more appropriate in some circumstances, but the jury should consider those future services available to all, regardless of wealth or status, when deciding on the proper award of future damages. The trial court did not err by allowing such consideration by the jury in this case.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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