Tag: injury

Minimal Force of an Impact Matters in Car Accident Litigation

For years, Louisiana plaintiffs attorneys have argued that the force of impact in an auto accident is not determinative of their clients’ injuries and should be afforded little, if any, weight. A recent decision out of the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal does damage to that argument. In Jones v. Bravata, Jr. and The City of Baton Rouge, 2018 CA 0837 (La. App. 1 Cir. 5/9/19), the First Circuit upheld the trial court’s jury instruction on “force of impact” where photographs showed only minor damage and the defendant described the accident as a “bump.”

The accident occurred when a City employee rear-ended the plaintiffs’ vehicle. Liability was stipulated and the only question at trial was damages. Mrs. Jones alleged severe neck and back injuries. She began treatment with an orthopedist within a week of the accident and thereafter received five “relatively non-invasive surgical procedures” in lieu of a lumbar fusion surgery. The jury returned a verdict of $200,000, which included $150,000 in past medical expenses and $35,000 in future medical expenses, but awarded little for general damages. Mrs. Jones appealed the verdict, asserting that the trial court erred in instructing the jury on force of impact.

The “force of impact” jury instruction in dispute provided:

While the force of a collision may be considered in determining whether a person was injured by an accident and the extent of the injuries sustained, it should not be the only factor to consider in making such a determination. Even though the force of impact may be slight, it does not preclude an award of damages. However, in determining causation, you may consider the minimal nature of the accident.

In considering the plaintiff’s assignment of error, the First Circuit noted that Mrs. Jones was correct that no witness specifically testified that the accident was too minor to have caused her injuries. However, there was evidence in the record upon which the jury could have reached the conclusion that this was a minimal impact.

Common sense would appear to support a connection between the force of an impact and the injury one could be expected to suffer. The recent Jones decision allows defendants to promote this common sense argument. Where the claimed injuries are disproportionate to the forces involved, this argument can make the difference at trial.

John Grinton is a partner of the firm admitted in state, federal and appellate courts throughout Louisiana.  His practice focuses on commercial and construction litigation, representing insurance companies, architects, engineers, contractors and other businesses in all aspects of litigation.  His workers’ compensation practice includes representing clients in medical billing disputes, healthcare provider disputes, statutory/borrowing/special employer disputes, and court approved settlements. John has been involved in complex cases involving construction defect claims, breach of contract and negligence actions, insurance coverage issues, lender liability, securities litigation and personal injury matters. He has firsthand experience in jury trials and arbitration’s, as well as mediation, appellate briefing and oral argument.

The “Collateral Source Rule” & How it Can Cost (or Make) You Thousands – Part I

Imagine you are a defendant sued because you negligently injured someone in Louisiana.  In the accident, the plaintiff received extensive medical treatment. The health insurer paid $50,000 for medical costs even though the doctors billed $150,000 for the plaintiff’s care. The plaintiff was only out-of-pocket $500 for his health insurance deductible. What amount should you have to pay: $150,000, $50,000, or only $500?

The answer to this question is not so simple. You will certainly have to pay more than the plaintiff’s deductible, that much is clear. But whether you are required to pay the medical providers’ full rate of $150,000, the insurer’s discounted rate of $50,000, or some other amount for the medical services provided is a more complicated issue.

This blog is broken down in a two-part series. This installment will address the background of the collateral source rule and the public policy behind the rule.

What is the Collateral Source Rule?

The collateral source rule provides that a tortfeasor is generally not entitled to a credit for payments made to a plaintiff through “collateral sources,” i.e., sources not provided by the defendant. Under this rule, a tortfeasor’s exposure for damages should be the same regardless of whether or not the plaintiff purchased health insurance.

The collateral source rule permits the plaintiff to recover medical expenses in excess of the amounts actually paid by the plaintiff or their insurer. Critics therefore assert that the rule provides a “windfall” to the plaintiff that violates the goal of Louisiana tort law, namely to make the victim “whole.”  As applied, the rule can make the victim more than whole.

Origins of the Collateral Source Rule

To understand the collateral source rule, it helps to look at its origins. The rule in the United States at least dates back to the 1854 case The Propeller Monticello v. Mollison, 58 U.S. (17 How.) 152, 15 L.Ed. 68 (1854). In Propeller Monticello, two ships wrecked and one sank. The insurer of the ship that sank paid for the loss. The owner of the at fault ship asserted that the plaintiff had been fully compensated by the insurer’s payment and that it was therefore not obligated to pay for the damage. In rejecting this argument, the Propeller Monticello Court held the defendant was not a party to the insurance contract and could not reduce exposure by citing to the insurance available to the plaintiff.

Policies Behind the Collateral Source Rule

In Dep’t of Transp. & Dev. v. Kansas City S. Ry. Co., 846 So. 2d 734 (La. 5/20/03), the Louisiana Supreme Court detailed the public policy concerns that support the collateral source rule. According to the court, the policies in favor of the rule include:

i.  Fairness– a defendant should not gain an advantage from benefits provided to the plaintiff independent of any act of the defendant;

ii.  Deterrence– the rule provides a deterrence to negligent conduct; and,

iii.  Promotion of Insurance– victims could be dissuaded from purchasing insurance if that act could affect tort recovery.

So, how much do you owe: $50,000, $150,000, or some other amount? We’ll tell you in Part II of this blog.