The laws surrounding personal injury cases in Tennessee are complicated, but a recent Tennessee State Supreme Court decision struck a decisive blow on behalf of personal injury victims. The decision was rendered in the case Jean Dedmon v. Debbie Steelman, et al., and allows plaintiffs to submit the full cost of their medical bills, as opposed to the discounted rates insurance companies generally pay when they pay out a claim.
Dedmon considered whether the Tennessee Supreme Court’s opinion in West v. Shelby County Healthcare Corporation applied to proof of damages in personal injury actions. West concerned Shelby County Healthcare Corporation’s lien against a patient who had not paid for the services rendered at the hospital. The Court ruled that, because the hospital would have obtained a discounted amount from the insurance company, it could only place the lien for the discounted amount. After this decision was rendered, the defendants in Dedmon attempted to claim that the plaintiff could only submit the discounted costs – not the full costs – of her medical bills to the jury. The defense lawyers and insurance company started using the West decision, which clearly was not meant to apply to personal injury trials, to deny plaintiffs of their due compensation.
How did the courts rule?
In Dedmon, the original trial court ruled that because of West, insured personal injury plaintiffs cannot present their undiscounted bills as evidence. The plaintiffs appealed, and the intermediate appellate court ruled that the West ruling does not apply to Dedmon, and that insured plaintiffs can present their undiscounted bills as evidence. However, in a strange opinion, it ruled that the defense lawyers can also present evidence of the reduced amounts, arguing that such evidence was relevant as to whether the medical bills were “reasonable.” The Supreme Court rebuked this attack on the “collateral source rule,” meaning that benefits plaintiffs get from sources that are not the defendants cannot decrease the defendants’ liability to the plaintiffs.
Moreover, the Supreme Court noted that the gap between the regular rates clinics give to uninsured patients and the discounted rates given to insured patients is growing. The Court ruled that medical costs “cannot be valued” like homes and vehicles can, because the healthcare system is heavily regulated. Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that the collateral source rule is applicable to Dedmon, allowing the Dedmon plaintiffs to present undiscounted bills. It further found that defendants could no longer used the discounted billings at trial, reversing the Court of Appeals. However, it also ruled that defendants can present other evidence indicating that plaintiffs’ full amounts are unreasonable as long as said evidence abides by the collateral source rule.
This decision is an important one for personal injury victims throughout Tennessee, and for those of us who advocate on their behalf. We are proud that the Tennessee State Supreme Court has come down on the side of justice in this ruling.
The attorneys of Delius & McKenzie, PLLC fight on behalf of injury victims throughout Tennessee. If you have been hurt, you want an experienced trial lawyer on your side. Please call (865) 428-8780 or complete this contact form to learn more about our services. We proudly serve clients in Sevierville, Gatlinburg, Seymour, Pigeon Forge, and the nearby regions.