Injured Trucker, Passenger Can Use Doctors, Not Unpaid Bills to Establish the Value of Medical Services

Volvo_bobtail_semi-truck_A trucker and his passenger received good news and bad news from their appeal of a trial court ruling in their personal injury lawsuit. According to the California Court of Appeal, the pair, who were injured when rear-ended by another trucker, could use the testimony of their doctors to establish the value of the medical services they received, but they could not use their unpaid medical bills, since a billed amount was not necessarily representative of the service’s true value.

The trucker, Joaquin Ochoa, was driving a semi truck without a trailer when a tractor-trailer driven by Jesus Felipe Dorado crashed into his vehicle from the rear. Ochoa was stopped in traffic on Interstate 710, and Dorado did not notice Ochoa until it was too late to stop in time. Ochoa and his passenger, Imelda Moreno, both suffered back injuries in the crash that eventually required surgery.

Ochoa and Moreno sued Dorado and his employer for the damages they suffered as a result of their injuries. At trial, the court refused to allow Ochoa and Moreno to use their unpaid medical bills as evidence of the reasonable value of the medical services they had received. The court also refused to allow the pair’s doctors to testify as to the value of the services they provided.

A jury found for Ochoa and Moreno and awarded them both economic and non-economic damages. The trial court threw out part of the jury’s damages award. Ochoa and Moreno appealed.

The appeals court agreed with the trial court’s decision on the unpaid medical bills. The court noted that injured people, in seeking compensation for the medical services they received, can only recover the amount the medical provider actually received. In a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, Howell v. Hamilton Meats, the court denied injury victims the opportunity to recover the full amount billed by their medical providers, deciding that the correct measure of the value of the services was the amount the provider accepted as full payment.

For example, if your doctor bills $5,000 for a service, but accepts $3,000 from your insurance company as payment in full, $3,000 is the value of the service that doctor provided. The Howell court reasoned that this was the proper amount because “a medical care provider’s billed price for particular services is not necessarily representative of either the cost of providing those services or their market value.” Since Ochoa and Moreno’s unpaid bills necessarily contained only the amount the medical provider billed for services, which is not the correct amount for determining damages, the trial court was correct in excluding them from the case.

The court reversed the trial court’s decision on the doctors’ testimony. A treating physician may testify about the value of the services he or she provided, the court explained, as long as the testimony he or she gives arises from facts that he or she obtained as a result of the doctor-patient relationship or acquired independently from the injured patient’s legal action.

Vehicle injury cases, even ones where the other driver’s fault is virtually undeniable, are often complex matters. They frequently involve locating a large volume of evidence and then determining what proof to present at trial. To obtain the full amount you deserve under the law, you should consider retaining experienced California personal injury counsel. The Oakland personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch can guide you through the process of organizing your evidence to present the most compelling case possible. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Trucker Potentially Liable for Teen Driver’s Injuries Due to Illegal Parking Stop, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, June 13, 2014

Auto Maker Agrees to $1.2B Settlement to End Federal Probe of Defective Vehicle Accelerators, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, June 13, 2014

Photo: Fourthords at Wikimedia Commons.