Traditionally, Plaintiffs have claimed medical bills as part of damages in a Missouri personal injury claim. However, following some changes in the law, showing the jury medical bills has become complicated. Before 2005, the amount of the bill was simply shown. As payment or adjustments are not considered, what is traditionally referred to as the collateral source rule. Since then, the law has been changed in Missouri to erode the collateral source rule and now the insurance defense lawyers can argue offsets and adjustments of the bill. The often makes claiming the bills to a jury more trouble than it is worth.
In many of our cases, we do not give the medical bills to the jury as it is now a distraction from the client’s real injuries. We want a jury to put a value on the human damage of an injury, not based on what a doctor or hospital bills or an insurance company adjusts it to.
Insurance defense lawyers have been fighting this and often try to force medical bills into the case as they know is its a distraction. So what if the Plaintiff does not claim medical bills to begin with, shouldn’t the bills be irrelevant? YES! according to a recent Court of Appeals Decision.
Schieffer v. Decleene, ED105243 (Nov. 14, 2017). Eastern District of MO Court of Appeals.
“The trial court’s authority is limited to such questions as are presented by the parties in their pleadings,” and “where objected-to evidence is outside the scope of the pleadings, the trial court has no discretion to admit such evidence.” Kerr v. Curators of the University of Missouri, 512 S.W.3d 798, 815 (Mo. App. W.D. 2016) (quoting McClain v. Hartley, 320 S.W.3d 183, 185 (Mo. App. E.D. 2010)); International Div., Inc., 425 S.W.3d at 228. Since Mr. Schieffer’s second amended petition deleted any claim for the recovery of medical expenses, evidence of his medical costs following the November 2011 collision was outside the scope of the pleadings and irrelevant, and “we can only conclude that the jury took it into consideration when they awarded a verdict” amounting to $25,000 because the evidence “was all before the jury even though not specifically pleaded.” Moore, 458 S.W.2d at 347; see also, Urbach v. Okonite Company, 514 S.W.3d 653, 660 (Mo. App. E.D. 2017) (“Evidence is prejudicial if it tends to lead the jury to decide the case on some basis other than the established propositions in the case.”). Thus, we find that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of Mr. Schieffer’s medical expenses over his objection, and a new trial is warranted. See, Layton, 309 S.W.2d at 567; and International Div., Inc., 425 S.W.3d at 232-33.”
Why is this important? Because now the plaintiff is not forced to deal with irrelevant and unclaimed damages of medical bills. Those irrelevant damages distract the jury in the end up forcing deciding the case based on medical bills and not the real injuries to the plaintiff. Insurance defense lawyers will often argue that the medical bills are low and that should be the basis for the jury verdict.
Ask yourself this simple question, if a family member or a close friend was severely injured would your first question to them be “what are your medical bills?”…. of course not. Deciding the value of an injury based on our humanity does not base value of an injury to another human being based on the amount of the bill paid to the doctors. But this is what insurance adjusters and lawyers want you to do. The above case is important because it helps stop that argument to a jury.