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Patterson v. State Farm Mutual

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 15, 2017

DUSTIN B. PATTERSON Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL Defendants-Appellees

         Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 580, 986 Honorable Michael A. Pitman, Judge

          MORRIS, DEWETT & SAVOIE, LLC By: B. Trey Morris Justin C. Dewett Meagan E. Shadinger Counsel for Appellant.

          LUNN, IRION, SALLEY, CARLISLE & GARDNER, APLC By: Ronald E. Raney Counsel for Appellee, ANPAC Louisiana Insurance Company.

          Before BROWN, STONE, and DREW (Ad Hoc), JJ.

          BROWN, C.J.

         Plaintiff, Dustin B. Patterson, filed suit against defendants, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, ANPAC Louisiana Insurance Company, CLOCO, LLC, and Todd Cloinger, seeking damages for injuries he sustained in an automobile accident that occurred on June 23, 2014. Prior to trial, Patterson settled his claims against Cloinger (the driver of the other vehicle), State Farm (Cloinger's liability insurer), and CLOCO (the owner of the vehicle driven by Cloinger) for $50, 000. Additionally, ANPAC (Patterson's UM insurer) tendered to Patterson UM benefits in the amount of $60, 000.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial against ANPAC. The jury attributed 100% of the fault for the accident to Cloinger, found that Patterson suffered damages as a result of the collision, and awarded him $13, 632.63 in past medical expenses; $5, 000 in future medical expenses; and $5, 000 for his pain and suffering, for a total award of $23, 632.63. On November 28, 2016, the trial court rendered a final judgment in accordance with the jury's verdict and, inter alia, "ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that in applying the stipulations in this matter, no further money is owed by defendant, ANPAC LOUISIANA INSURANCE COMPANY, to plaintiff, DUSTIN PATTERSON." Plaintiff has appealed, urging that the trial court erred in granting defendant's motion in limine which limited evidence of Patterson's past and future medical expenses to the contractually discounted rates paid by his insurer and thus denied him the opportunity to recover the full benefit of the "write off" amounts.

         DISCUSSION

         ANPAC filed a motion in limine seeking to limit Patterson from presenting to the jury evidence of any medical expenses in excess of the contracted rate paid by his health insurer. This motion was opposed by plaintiff. The trial court granted ANPAC's motion on May 23, 2016.[1] Jury trial was held July 25 - 27, 2016. On the first day of trial, the parties put several stipulations on the record, including that the $110, 000 received by Patterson pretrial would be credited against any judgment entered against ANPAC. Also stipulated to by the attorneys was the amount of past medical expenses potentially recoverable by plaintiff as limited by the trial court's evidentiary ruling. Patterson's counsel re-urged his objection to the trial court's evidentiary ruling for the record. In accordance with its pretrial ruling, the trial court only allowed plaintiff to introduce the contractually discounted amounts (which totaled $13, 632.63) paid by his health insurer to medical providers as evidence of plaintiff's past medical expenses.

         The trial court cited the recent supreme court case of Hoffman v. 21st Century North American Insurance Co., 14-2279 (La. 10/02/15), 209 So.3d 702, and noted that plaintiff did not have the obligation to pay the "write-off" amounts under the Balance Billing Act in support of its ruling. Health Care Consumer Billing Disclosure Protection Act, also known as the "Balance Billing Act", La. R.S. 22:1871, et seq.

         Dustin Patterson was the victim of a car wreck caused by a tortfeasor found by the jury to be 100% at fault. Plaintiff sought medical attention for his injuries, and his medical providers were paid by his health insurer, Blue Cross, which was entitled to a discount as a result of collective bargaining. All of plaintiff's medical providers accepted the discounted amount ($13, 632.63) rather than the customary charge for patients with no health insurance ($63, 072.88), which means these providers "wrote off" $49, 440.25, the difference between their customary charges and the discounted amounts they accepted from Blue Cross. According to Patterson, the trial court's ruling was legally erroneous because it failed to allow him, the tort victim, to realize the "benefit of the bargain" and recover the write-off amount of $49, 440.25, considering the reduction in his patrimony that occurred when he paid health insurance premiums to Blue Cross for his medical insurance. We agree with Patterson's argument.

         The collateral source rule is a rule of evidence and damages that provides that a tortfeasor may not benefit, and an injured plaintiff's tort recovery may not be reduced, because of monies received by the plaintiff from sources independent of the tortfeasor's procuration or contribution. Bozeman v. State, 03-1016 (La. 07/02/04), 879 So.2d 692; Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development v. Kansas City Southern Ry. Co., 02-2349 (La. 05/20/03), 846 So.2d 734. The payments received from the independent source are not deducted from the award the aggrieved party would otherwise receive from the wrongdoer, and a tortfeasor's liability to an injured plaintiff should be the same, regardless of whether or not the plaintiff had the foresight to obtain insurance. Id. at 739-40. As a result of the collateral source rule, the tortfeasor is not able to benefit from the victim's foresight in purchasing insurance and other benefits. Hoffman, 209 So.3d at 704; Bozeman, supra at 698; Suhor v. Lagasse, 00-1628 (La.App. 4 Cir. 09/13/00), 770 So.2d 422, 423. The major policy reason for applying the collateral source rule to damages has been, and continues to be, tort deterrence. Bozeman, 879 So.2d at 700. However, the supreme court in Hoffman, supra at 706, observed that "in both Bozeman and Bellard, we emphasized a fundamental consideration for application of the collateral source rule, in addition to tort deterrence, is 'whether the victim, by having a collateral source available as a source of recovery, either paid for such benefit or suffered some diminution in his or her patrimony because of the availability of the benefit, such that no actual windfall or double recovery would result from application of the rule.'"

         From an evidentiary perspective, the collateral source rule bars the introduction of evidence that a plaintiff has received benefits or payments from a collateral source independent of the tortfeasor's procuration or contribution. Bozeman, supra. As in the instant case, the issue typically arises at trial in the form of a motion in limine. Id. See also Terrell v. Nanda, 33, 242 (La.App. 2 Cir. 05/10/00), 759 So.2d 1026; Suhor, supra.

         The trial court is granted broad discretion in its evidentiary rulings which are not to be disturbed on appeal absent a clear abuse of discretion. Ryan v. Case New Holland, Inc., 51, 062 (La.App. 2 Cir. 12/22/16), 211 So.3d 611; Allums v. Parish of Lincoln, 44, 304 (La.App. 2 Cir. 06/10/09), 15 So.3d 1117, writ denied, 09-1938 (La. 11/20/09), 25 So.3d 803. A motion in limine presents an evidentiary matter that is subject to the great discretion of the trial court. Heller v. Nobel Insurance Group, 00-0261 (La. 02/02/00), 753 So.2d 841; Ryan, supra; ...


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