California Court Rules that Medical Bills, Expert Testimony Enough to Prove Damages in Multi-Million Dollar Auto Accident Case

An uninsured bicyclist, who was severely injured by a vehicle involved in a two-car accident, was allowed to retain most of the $3.75 million judgment a jury awarded him against one of the drivers. The California Court of Appeal decided that uninsured accident victims, like the bicyclist, could prove their damages by offering up their medical bills alongside medical expert testimony stating that those charges were fair and reasonable.

The accident in question involved drivers Nathan Heacox and Faith Ciolek, who were traveling in opposite directions on Talbert Avenue in Orange County when their vehicles collided in the intersection of Talbert and Bushard Street. The crash knocked Heacox’s vehicle onto the sidewalk, where it struck bicyclist Omar Bermudez. Bermudez, who suffered serious injuries including multiple fractures, sued both drivers. Although a jury decided that Heacox was speeding, it concluded that only Ciolek was “a substantial factor in causing harm” to the bicyclist.

In order to establish his damages, Bermudez, who was uninsured at the time of the accident, used his medical bills, along with expert testimony about the reasonableness of those charges, as evidence. This evidence included roughly $450,000 in past medical bills, including a $111,000 bill for a four-day stay at the University of California Irvine Medical Center. Bermudez also presented the testimony of an Orange County orthopedic surgeon, who opined that the medical center’s bills, along with bills Bermudez received for doctor visits, MRIs, and other tests were all “fair and reasonable.” A neurosurgeon from Los Angeles County testified that the bills related to the bicyclist’s two back surgeries were also reasonable. Relying on that proof, the jury set the man’s damages at more than $3.75 million.

Ciolek appealed, seeking a new trial on damages. The driver’s argument was that the bicyclist provided insufficient evidence of the reasonable value of his medical damages to support the award he received because he did not adequately prove “the market or exchange value of the services received.”

The appeals court, however, upheld the bulk of the damages award. The court came to this conclusion by looking to a 2011 case, Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc., and several cases that followed Howell. These cases, the court determined, made it clear that, under California law, uninsured victims (like Bermudez) may establish their damages by offering evidence of the amount billed to them by providers, since the patient would theoretically be responsible for the entire bill. This differed from insured accident victims, who would only pay the reduced rates negotiated by their insurers.

Uninsured victims may not rely upon their bills alone, though. To meet the evidentiary requirements of the law, a victim must, as Bermudez did in his case, offer both bill evidence and additional proof that the expenses for which he was billed were fair and reasonable. The bicyclist’s medical expert witnesses provided that proof of fairness and reasonableness, which is why the appeals court allowed $3.7 million of the $3.75 million judgment to stand.

Pursuing an injury case can involve many different components and a variety of types of evidence, especially if you were uninsured at the time of your accident. For reliable advice and zealous advocacy regarding your damages, talk to the Oakland car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our injury attorneys have helped many auto accident victims recover payment for the damages they’ve suffered. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Improper Use of Driver’s Prior Traffic Offenses Derails $1.2M Award for Passenger, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Jan. 30, 2015

Jury Verdict Holding Driver Not Liable for Crash Survives Despite Improper Testimony, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Oct. 30, 2014

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