Monday, November 14, 2016

These Bills Are Too Damn High...

Moore v. Mercer, No. C073064 (D3 Oct. 21, 2016)

Yet another case addressing the Howell rule for measuring past medical costs as and element damages in a PI case. Under that rule the initial rates billed to a patient by a healthcare provider aren’t dispositive because those rates are super-inflated, and pale in comparison to what ultimately gets paid, especially if paid by insurance. Plaintiff here wasn’t insured, and the hospital sold her bill to a collections agency. Defendant argued that what the hospital got from the agency is the true value of the services. 

This is pretty much the same facts as the Uspenskaya case, decided almost exactly one year ago. And it has the same result: the collections bill is admissible, but not dispositive. Same rule that applies to the hospital’s initial bill. So the jury’s damages award—which was between the two figures—is affirmed.

There’s a second issue, though. Defendant tried to get the (third party) doctor’s contract with the collections agency in discovery. The court denied a motion to compel on the grounds that the agreement was irrelevant and issued discovery sanctions against Defendant. That was error. The terms of an agreement under which claims are sold “bear[s] some probative value” as to the true reasonable value of the services. But given that the trial court said it would have excluded the evidence at trial—which would not necessarily been erroneous—the discovery error was harmless. The sanctions, however, are reversed. 

Notable quote: The “broad scope of permissible discovery is equally applicable to discovery of information from a nonparty as it is to parties in the pending suit.” (quoting Johnson v. Superior Court, 80 Cal. App. 4th 1050 (2000). That
s correct as a matter of the language of the Discovery Act, but read broadly, its in some tension with with the oft-cited Calcor decision, which suggests you should exhaust efforts to get discovery from a party before you burden a third party with document demands.

Reversed in part.

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