The Florida Supreme Court recently examined how plaintiffs can present past medical expenses at trial. Generally, in Florida, plaintiffs can present to a jury the total billed amount of past medical expenses and the jury’s award is later subject to set off after trial.[i] In recent years, there had been some lack of clarity as to whether past medical expenses paid for by Medicare should be presented to a jury in the full amount billed, or in the amount actually paid by Medicare. In April 2022, the Florida Supreme Court confirmed that, in cases where bills were paid by Medicare, plaintiffs can only discuss the amount paid by Medicare for past medical bills.[ii] The Court left alone the existing rule that future medical expenses, even in Medicare-eligible cases, can be presented to a jury for the full amount intended to be billed..[iii]
Dial v. Calusa Palms Master Association, Inc.[iv]
In Dial, plaintiff tripped while on property owned by defendant. After plaintiff’s fall, she was injured. She sued defendant, seeking past medical expenses. Before trial, the judge granted a motion in limine which “precluded…[plaintiff]…from introducing as evidence the gross amount of her past medical expenses and limited her to introducing only the discounted amounts paid by Medicare.”[v] Jurors awarded her $34,641.69 in past medical expenses.
Plaintiff appealed, claiming she should have been allowed to introduce the full amount, not the discounted amounts Medicare paid, based on Joerg v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. The appellate court certified a question raised on appeal:
DOES THE HOLDING IN JOERG V. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE CO., 176 SO. 3D 1247 (FLA. 2015), PROHIBITING THE INTRODUCTION OF EVIDENCE OF MEDICARE BENEFITS IN A PERSONAL INJURY CASE FOR PURPOSES OF A JURY’S CONSIDERATION OF FUTURE MEDICAL EXPENSES ALSO APPLY TO PAST MEDICAL EXPENSES?[vi]
The appellate court affirmed the trial court, relying on Cooperative Leasing, Inc. v. Johnson, where they held previously:
the appropriate measure of compensatory damages for past medical expenses when a plaintiff has received Medicare benefits does not include the difference between the amount that the Medicare providers agreed to accept and the total amount of the plaintiff’s medical bills.[vii]
The Florida Supreme Court took up the case and reviewed the question certified by the appellate court. Joerg focused on the court’s review of a case involving future medical expenses, including the speculative nature of such medical expenses. Accordingly, the Florida Supreme Court decided Joerg had nothing to do with the case at bar, as plaintiff’s case revolved around a question of past medical expenses. Based on its reasoning, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s ruling on the case.
The Florida State Supreme Court’s ruling here affirming the appellate court’s previous opinion is a win for defense attorneys. Plaintiffs’ counsel often try make as much money as possible in a case by introducing the highest possible numbers available for medical expenses. By limiting future plaintiffs to the discounted rates for past medical expenses which involve Medicare payments, the Court helped create limitations to unreasonable plaintiff demands. This will help reduce Nuclear Verdicts® in Florida, as jurors will not be able to hear plaintiffs’ unreasonable demands, and plaintiffs’ counsel will have to introduce a fair number for past medical expenses in Medicare-based cases, not an inflated number.
[i] F.S. §768.76 (1986).
[ii] Dial v. Calusa Palms Master Ass’n, Inc., SC21-43, 2022 WL 1261150 (Fla. Apr. 28, 2022).
[iii] Joerg v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 176 So. 3d 1247 (Fla. 2015).
[iv] Dial v. Calusa Palms Master Ass’n, Inc., SC21-43, 2022 WL 1261150 (Fla. Apr. 28, 2022).
[v] Dial v. Calusa Palms Master Ass’n, Inc., SC21-43, 2022 WL 1261150, at *1 (Fla. Apr. 28, 2022).
[vi] Dial v. Calusa Palms Master Ass’n, Inc., 308 So. 3d 690, 692 (Fla. 2d DCA 2020), review granted, SC21-43, 2021 WL 1604008 (Fla. Apr. 26, 2021), and opinion approved of, SC21-43, 2022 WL 1261150 (Fla. Apr. 28, 2022).
[vii] Dial, 308 So. 3d at 691 (quoting Cooperative Leasing, Inc. v. Johnson, 872 So. 2d 956, 960 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004)).