Florida Supreme Court Clarifies the Collateral Source Rule

The collateral source rule is rooted in the legal principle that compensation obtained by a plaintiff through a secondary source (i.e., health insurance) is irrelevant to the liability of the defendant. Put another way, a defendant does not get to pay less for his or her negligence simply because a third party compensates an injured individual. As a result, evidence of a plaintiff’s health insurance is generally not admissible for consideration.

There was a limited exception to this rule that pertained to free or low-cost collateral source benefits, such as Medicare and Medicaid benefits. The idea was that the question of Medicare and Medicaid was relevant to determining the plaintiff’s need for long-term medical expenses. Determinations of future medical expenses are often some of the most complex questions that are addressed in Florida personal injury cases.

In Joerg v. State Farm, however, the Florida Supreme Court has further narrowed this exception. The facts of the case are as follows. The plaintiff was a disabled adult who resided with his parents for his entire life. He was never employed. Due to his condition, he obtained Medicare for his medical bills. In 2007, the plaintiff was riding his bike when he was hit by a vehicle. He subsequently filed a negligence claim against the vehicle driver, as well as the respondent in this case, which was his own uninsured motorist carrier. Prior to trial, the plaintiff withdrew his claims against the driver and forged ahead solely against his own insurer for uninsured motorist benefits.

The plaintiff wanted to exclude information pertaining to any collateral source benefits he obtained under both Medicaid and Medicare. The court granted his request and prohibited the insurer from introducing any evidence of future benefits that would be paid through Medicaid or Medicare.

The plaintiff was ultimately awarded $1.5 million, of which $470,000 was for future medical expenses.

The defendants appealed. The Second District Court of Appeals affirmed on all the issues, except the admissibility of the plaintiff’s Medicare benefits. The court explained that Medicare benefits were free and unearned, so they should not have been excluded as evidence under the collateral source rule. The court reversed on the issue of future damages and remanded.

The plaintiff went on to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. The court held that it was not proper to introduce information regarding Medicare benefits because there is no guarantee of these benefits. The court also reasoned that it was speculative to try and determine damages awards based on benefits that the plaintiff had not yet obtained and may never obtain. Federal benefits are of an uncertain nature, since they are based on public funding and subject to legislative action.

If you’ve been hurt in an automobile accident, it is important to seek the help of a reputable Miami car accident attorney. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our team understands the nuances of personal injury law and can put this knowledge to use in your case. You can rest assured that we can provide you with skilled legal representation at every step of the way. We proudly serve clients throughout South Florida. To learn more, call us at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or contact us online today.

More Blog Posts:

Parking Lot Accidents in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, December 9, 2015

Ordinary Negligence vs. Medical Negligence in Florida, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, December 9, 2015

Information of Subsequent Accident Admissible in Florida Car Wreck Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, December 9, 2015

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