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CMA tells court juries must consider amounts paid when calculating economic damages



March 12, 2013
Area(s) of Interest: Amicus Briefs Licensing & Regulatory Issues MICRA 

In response to an invitation from the California Court of Appeals, the California Medical Association (CMA), together with the California Hospital Association and the California Dental Association, recently filed an amicus letter brief regarding evidence that is admissible in court for determining future medical damages and noneconomic damages.


The court solicited input on the following issue: "To what extent, if at all, evidence of the amount billed for medical expenses is admissible and relevant to the issues of future medical expenses and/or noneconomic damages." These specific issues were left unresolved by the California Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in Howell v. Hamilton Meats, where the court held that an injured person can only recover reasonable amounts actually paid or incurred for past medical care, not undiscounted provider bills that were never paid by or on behalf of the injured person.


The trial attorneys are arguing that the jury for the purposes of determining damages for future medical expenses should hear evidence about the reasonable value of and/or the amounts billed for past medical services, not the amounts actually paid. In other words, the trial attorneys want to limit the Supreme Court’s opinion in Howell v. Hamilton Meats solely to past medical expense damages.


CMA told the court in this case, Corenbaum v. Lampkin, that in determining the reasonable cost of future medical expenses, the jury may consider how much medical expenses plaintiffs actually incurred in the past for medical care. However, evidence of the amount that plaintiffs were billed in the past for medical care is not relevant to determining what medical expenses plaintiffs will incur in the future.


CMA also told the court that to award compensation for noneconomic damages, juries should be instructed that the amount plaintiffs’ were billed in the past for medical care cannot be used to calculate the plaintiffs’ noneconomic damages. The brief went on to explain that there is no fixed standard for deciding the amount of noneconomic damages, which includes pain, suffering, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfigurement and nonpecuniary damage, and the jury must use its judgment instead of a formula based on medical bills to decide reasonable compensation.

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