Good News for the Defense: The Howell / Hanif Rule has been expanded in Corenbaum v. Lampkin.
In Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, the California Supreme Court held that an injured plaintiff whose medical expenses are paid by a private insurer cannot recover damages for past medical expenses greater than the amount that the private insurer actually paid for the services, notwithstanding the full amount of the bill. The important question left open in the Howell decision was the admissibility of the entire bill at trial, including as evidence to support future medical expenses and pain and suffering “general” damages.
On April 30, 2013, in the case of Corenbaum v. Lampkin, the California Second Appellate District squarely addressed those admissibility questions left open in Howell. In a clear victory for the defense, the court held that evidence of the full amount of a bill, when the amount paid was actually less, is also inadmissible as evidence to prove future medical expenses or general damages. In summary, the court held:
- Evidence of the full amount billed is not relevant to the amount of past medical expenses;
- Evidence of the full amount billed for past medical services is not relevant to the determination of damages for future medical expenses;
- Evidence of the full amount billed for past medical services cannot support an expert opinion on the reasonable value of future medical services; and
- Evidence of the full amount billed is not relevant to the amount of noneconomic damages.
One interesting passage from the case related to the long established “rule of thumb” practice of estimating or arguing the amount of non-economic damages based on the amount of medical expenses billed. The plaintiff in Corenbaum v. Lampkinargued that this practice supported the notion that a jury had the right to know the full amount of bills paid in order to assess non-economic damages. This argument was soundly rejected by the court, which stated:
Lawyers have used the amount of economic damages as a point of reference in their argument to a jury, or in settlement discussions, as a means to help determine the amount of noneconomic damages. We need not comment on this practice except to state that it can provide no justification for the admission of evidence that is otherwise inadmissible and that is not relevant to the amount of economic damages. As we have explained, the full amount billed for past medical services is not relevant to a determination of the damages for either past or future medical services if the medical providers had agreed to accept a lesser amount as full payment. We conclude that evidence of the full amount billed is not admissible for the purpose of providing plaintiff’s counsel an argumentative construct to assist a jury in its difficult task of determining the amount of noneconomic damages and is inadmissible for the purpose of proving noneconomic damages.
It is practically guaranteed that this decision will be appealed to the California Supreme Court. Whether the Supreme Court will take this case or agree with its holding and let it stand is uncertain. What is certain is that as long as this case remains law, plaintiff damages will be throttled by the amount of medical bills actually paid by private insurers.
To review the opinion in its entirety, visit: