A Major Win for Indiana Defense Bar on Medical Bill Admission
By: Kopka Pinkus Dolin
As you may be aware, on March 24, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in favor of Kopka Pinkus Dolin’s client West Bend Mutual Insurance Company.
Gladstone v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Company went to trial last July. Opposing counsel elected not to offer any evidence of medical specials or incurred bills. Several years ago, the Indiana Supreme Court in Stanley v. Walker held that a jury might consider actual or incurred medical expenses. The defense is then entitled to offer rebuttal evidence to reduce payments, suggesting a more reasonable value of medical services and costs. The jury can decide after that as to an appropriate anchor of alleged damages. The Stanley decision initially limited such consideration to matters of private health insurance. In 2016 the Indiana Supreme Court in Patchett v. Lee expanded the ruling to include government and state-funded insurance plans. The plaintiffs’ trial bar then began a long retreat only to come up with something different. In cases with relatively low medical expenses, the strategy was to offer no medical bills and then claim “pain and suffering” without anchor with somewhat success.
The KPD team, led by Matt Jankowski, Chris Bond, and Tom Ehrhardt, took a stand in the Gladstone case–objective injury with relatively low medical specials. The Court noted the question of whether medical bills being “admissible in a proceeding in which recovery of them is not sought has not been specifically addressed in Indiana.” After further reflection, the Court then stated, “We begin by rejecting Gladstone’s argument that evidence of medical bills is never relevant to the question of pain and suffering. Common sense and experience dictate that a more serious injury generally brings with it greater medical expenses as well as greater pain and suffering.” Opposing counsel sought a “bright-line rule” in this regard which was squarely rejected as follows “[H]aving declined Gladstone’s invitation to adopt a bright-line rule, we conclude that West Bend has cleared the low bar for establishing the relevance of Gladstone’s medical bills in this case. If the bills are low, as Gladstone apparently considers them to be, then they tend to establish that he has not experienced extensive pain and suffering from his injuries, and that is all that Evidence Rule 401 requires.”
This important case was among the first to be tried in the nation during the pandemic and was covered in the Indiana Lawyer. View our oral arguments here.
Though this is a significant win, we anticipate the matter will be appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court in the coming days. We will keep you informed of any pertinent updates.