Meek v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court

Meek v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, 2015 MT 130 (May 13, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.; McKinnon, J., dissenting) (6-1, supervisory control granted)

Issue: Whether the district court properly granted a defense motion in limine to restrict the medical damages evidence admissible at trial, and properly granted summary judgment against Meek on that issue.

Short Answer: No.

Writ of supervisory control granted

Facts: Judy Meek died in January 2012 after a fall at a business in November 2011. Sharon Meek, the PR of Judy’s estate, brought suit against the business where the fall happened, seeking damages for survival and wrongful death.

Between the time of the fall and Judy’s death, Judy’s medical providers billed $197,154 for her care. Judy had Medicare coverage, with supplemental coverage through BC/BS. Together, those insurers paid $70,711 to Judy’s medical providers. The district court concluded that, despite the billing form the medical providers, Judy had no exposure or obligation to pay any charges beyond those paid by Medicare and BC/BS.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Defendant Pierce’s Dodge City moved in limine to limit Meek’s medical expense recovery to the amounts paid by Medicare and BC/BS, and to prevent Meek from presenting evidence to the jury about the amounts actually billed. The district court granted the motion, holding the amount billed was inadmissible because it was irrelevant, and granted summary judgment against Meek on that issue. Meek seeks supervisory control, and the Supreme Court grants the petition.

Reasoning: The district court concluded that amounts billed by health care providers are unreasonably inflated, and few patients ever actually pay the billed amount. Respondents argue the amount actually received is a better indicator, and that allowing evidence of medical bills beyond what has been paid could lead to a windfall recovery. All relevant evidence is admissible, unless otherwise provided. Evidence should not be excluded simply because there may be contrary evidence, or because it may be subject to impeachment. Medical bills can be relevant evidence of the nature and severity of injuries, and of medical treatment required. The reasonableness of medical bills is a factual issue for the jury.

Moreover, Medicare payments are a collateral source. The district court’s order would not only require these collateral source payments to be considered by the jury but would make them conclusively determinative of Meek’s medical damages. This is a violation of § 27-1-308(3), MCA. Any windfall is addressed by § 27-1-308(1) and (3), MCA, which provides that a strict court must hold a hearing after a jury verdict for the plaintiff and determine whether the verdict must be reduced by any amounts paid or payable from a collateral source.

Justice McKinnon’s Dissent: Sums beyond that actually expended are not damages. The collateral source rule has no relevance in establishing the appropriate measure for the reasonableness of damages. The Restatement (Second) of Torts provides that a personal injury plaintiff may recover the lesser of either the amount paid or incurred for medical services, or the reasonable value of the services. This is consistent with § 27-1-317, MCA, as well as Newbury, Conway, and Harris. The estate was never liable for the full bill, and therefore cannot recover it as an economic loss. There is no need to determine the reasonable value of services when the exact amount has been established by contract and has been satisfied. The collateral source rule is an evidentiary rule, not a measure of reasonable value.