Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Recoverability of Future Medical Expenses in an Auto Accident Case Addressed

A number of civil litigation trial issues were reviewed in the case of Farese v. Robinson, No. April Term 2015 1084 (C.P. Phila. Co. Sept. 6, 2018 Kennedy, J.), including the issue of how to handle a claim for future medical expenses in a motor vehicle accident matter.  

The case arose out a rear-end motor vehicle accident.   The case proceeded to trial and a jury entered a verdict in excess of $2.5 million dollars in favor of the Plaintiff.   The Defendants filed post-trial motions which brought about this Rule 1925 Opinion by the trial court judge.  

With respect to the Plaintiff’s claims for future medical expenses, defense asserted that a new trial on damages was necessary given that the Plaintiffs introduced evidence concerning future medical costs without reducing those costs in accordance with the cost containment provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), or Act 6.  

The trial court rejected the Defendant’s position as well as the defense’s reliance upon the case of Pittsburgh Neurosurgery Assoc’s v. Danner, 733 A.2d 1279 (Pa. Super. 1999), as the court found that that case was limited by the Superior Court to an application to past medical bills that had already been incurred by an injured party for treatment that had already been provided.  

Instead, the trial court relied upon the case of Moorehead v. Crozer Chester Medical Center, 765 A.2d 786 (Pa. 2001).  Also, the trial court also noted that the medical bills in this case that were presented to the jury had apparently already been subjected to the cost containment provisions of the MVFRL.   

The trial court in this case of Farese noted that its Opinion was that future medical costs are not considered “payable” within the meaning of §1722 or §1797 of the MVFRL.    The court believed that to claim that bills for medical services not yet performed should be considered “capable of being paid” in this context, “creates an unpersuasive logical fallacy.”   The court noted that, to rule otherwise, would create confusion as any medical service not yet performed would be considered “payable.”  

This particular court believed that future medical costs can only exists as being “not payable” under §1797.  

Practically speaking, the trial court found that the Plaintiff’s expert life care planner had properly opined as to the future cost of medical care under the “usual and customary charge(s)” mandated by 75 Pa. C.S.A. §1797(a).   The expert offered his opinion at trial that life care planners base protections on future medical care upon the usual and customary costs going into future because it is too speculative to know what reimbursements will be from month-to-month.

In entering its ruling, the Farese court pointed to the Federal Middle District Court decision of Kansky v. Showman, No. 3:09-cv-1863, 2011 WL 1362245 (M.D. Pa. April 11, 2011 Munley), in which that Federal District Court held that future medical bills are not “payable” as future medical payments are not currently outstanding and able to be paid and given that Defendants cannot guarantee that any future medical expenses will in fact be paid.    That court ruled that the payment of future medical expenses is merely speculative as a carrier could become bankrupt or could deny future medical bills for a variety of reasons.  [However, neither the Farese court nor the Kansky court pointed out that whether a Plaintiff will actually undergo future medical treatment once they settle their case or secure a verdict is speculative as well].   

The Kansky court held that, because the insurance benefits are not necessarily due and owing at the time of a trial and given that nothing could compel a carrier to pay a lump sum for future medical expenses, a Plaintiff’s future medical bills cannot be considered to be “payable” under Act 6.  

The Farese court followed this reasoning in its own decision and denied the defense’s request for a new trial based upon the handling of the future medical expenses claim at trial.  

Here is a LINK to the "Future Medical Expenses" Label, which can always be freely access down the right hand column of the Tort Talk Blog at www.TortTalk.com to access blog posts on this particular troublesome and unsettled topic.

The Farese decision is also notable in that the trial court held that the expert testimony offered by the Plaintiff from a neuro-radiologist was not considered to be cumulative when compared to the other expert medical evidence offered by the Plaintiff.   The court felt that the expert’s expertise in the area of neuro-radiology allowed that doctor to provide a nuanced opinion of the injuries sustained by the Plaintiff that better explained the injuries to the jury in a manner different then that from the Plaintiff’s other medical experts.  

The Farese court also addressed the issue of Defendant’s Motion for Remittitur against the Plaintiff’s substantial verdict.   In this regard, the court provided a detailed analysis of the current state of Pennsylvania law in addressing claims that a jury’s verdict is allegedly excessive.  

In the end, this court found that the jury’s award for damages was not excessive and did not shock the judicial conscience.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  

Source:  “Digest of Recent Opinions” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Oct. 16, 2018).   

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