Amounts Paid Cap: Future Care And Noneconomic Damages

Corenbaum v. Lampkin (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 1308, 156 Cal.Rptr.3d 347

Two men who were injured when the taxicab in which they were passengers was struck by another vehicle, filed suits for personal injuries against the other driver. Prior to trial the trial court granted the plaintiffs’ motion in limine to exclude any evidence their medical bills were paid by a collateral source. The court allowed the jury to hear evidence of the full amounts billed, but no evidence of lesser amounts accepted as full payment pursuant to prior agreements.

The jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding punitive damages as well as substantial compensatory damages. On appeal the defendant contended that the trial court had erred by admitting evidence of the full amounts billed for the plaintiffs’ medical care, rather than the amounts actually paid and accepted as full payment by the plaintiffs’ medical providers, contending that the evidence should have been excluded under Howell v. Hamilton Meats (2011) 52 Cal.4th 541.  The court of appeal reversed and remanded for a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages, holding that evidence of the full amounts billed was not relevant to the amount of damages for past medical services, damages for future medical care or noneconomic damages:

[F]or a jury to consider both evidence of the amount accepted as full payment, for the purpose of determining the amount of past economic damages, and the full amount billed, for some other purpose, would most certainly cause jury confusion and suggest the existence of a collateral source payment, contrary to the evidentiary aspect of the collateral source rule.

. . .
Lawyers have used the amount of economic damages as a point of reference in their argument to a jury, or in settlement discussions, as a means to help determine the amount of noneconomic damages. We need not comment on this practice except to state that it can provide no justification for the admission of evidence that is otherwise inadmissible and that is not relevant to the amount of economic damages. As we have explained, the full amount billed for past medical services is not relevant to a determination of the damages for either past or future medical services if the medical providers had agreed to accept a lesser amount as full payment. We conclude that evidence of the full amount billed is not admissible for the purpose of providing plaintiff’s counsel an argumentative construct to assist a jury in its difficult task of determining the amount of noneconomic damages and is inadmissible for the purpose of proving noneconomic damages.

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