Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Negligence vs. Causation

Bermudez v. Ciolek, No. G049510 (D4d3, as modified July 20, 2015)

In a car accident case with two defendants, the jury found both negligent, but that only Defendant #1 one was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury. Defendant #1 says that the verdict forms are inconsistent so she deserves a new trial. But they aren’t. The record showed that the jury could have easily found that Defendant #2 was negligent in that he was driving at slightly above the speed limit, but that his speeding wasn’t the cause of the accident.

Defendant #1 also challenges the plaintiffs’ medical damages. As we discussed last month hospital bills generally aren’t good evidence of medical expenses, because the billed amounts have so little bearing on what ultimately gets paid, which is the proper measure of damages. At least that’s the case with insured plaintiffs, because its the leverage of the insurers that gets the providers to reduce the check to the realm of the reasonable. 

But plaintiff here isn’t insured. His bills have never been paid and the hospital still could technically try to collect on them in full. Nonetheless, the court finds that a plaintiff is generally entitled to the lesser of: (1) medical costs paid or incurred; or (2) their reasonable value. In an uninsured case, (2) requires a wide-ranging inquiry, in which the plaintiff must produce some evidence, independent of the bills, showing that the charges were reasonable. The bills aren’t per se inadmissible, but on their own they won’t carry the day. That ultimately wasn’t an issue here, because (other than a small conceded reduction) plaintiff did come forward with some other evidence.

Affirmed, except for amendment of judgment to make a minor reduction of damages.

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