On April 28, 2022, the Florida Supreme Court rendered its decision in Dial v. Calusa Palms Master Association, Inc., which will undoubtedly have far-reaching effects on the damages awarded in personal injury cases throughout Florida.
Elaine Dial was injured in a trip-and-fall incident on property owned by Calusa Palms Master Association, Inc. At the time of her injury, Dial was covered by a private health insurance plan; however, she thereafter became eligible for Medicare. Both Dial and Calusa Palms, filed motions in limine concerning her past medical expenses. With regard to medical expenses processed by the plaintiff’s private health insurer, Calusa Palms agreed that the plaintiff could admit the full past medical expense amounts, even though they had been paid at the insurer’s discounted rates. With regard to the medical expenses processed by Medicare, however, Calusa Palms argued that the plaintiff should be permitted to admit only the amounts actually paid by Medicare.
Dial argued that since she paid monthly premiums for Medicare, Medicare should be considered a collateral source and she should be able to admit as evidence the full amounts of her past medical expenses. The trial court granted Calusa Palms’s motion in limine and denied Dial’s motion. Under the court’s ruling and after factoring in the Medicare discounted amounts, Dial’s past medical expenses totaled $34,641.69. Had she been permitted to admit the full amounts, her past medical expenses would have totaled approximately $120,000. At the conclusion of trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff the full $34,641.69 for past medical expenses, and the plaintiff’s appeal concerning the trial court’s ruling on the motions in limine followed.
The Florida Supreme Court
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that Medicare was a collateral source, although this premise is completely contrary to section 768.76(2)(b), Florida Statutes. The Second District Court of Appeals (DCA) affirmed the trial court’s ruling and certified the following question of great public importance:
DOES THE HOLDING IN JOERG V. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE CO., 176 SO. 3D 690 (FLA. 2015), PROHIBIT 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?
Fortunately, when the Florida Supreme Court answered the certified question in the negative, it also explicitly approved the Second DCA’s decision in Dial. The Florida Supreme Court cited the Second DCA’s decision in Cooperative Leasing, Inc. v. Johnson, 872 So. 2d 956, 960 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004), for its holding “that 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.”
In doing so, the Florida Supreme Court appears to have standardized the way that past medical expenses should be handled in courts throughout the state.
This ruling should universally limit personal injury plaintiffs to introducing only the discounted amounts Medicare paid. Prohibiting plaintiffs from introducing the full amount of the bills, the majority of which they were never obligated to pay, is the only fair way to deal with this issue as it relates to Medicare. This decision will hopefully assist in cutting down on pricey settlements, exorbitant jury verdicts and the plethora of attorney advertising billboards gracing Florida’s roadways.