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Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc.

Supreme Court of California

August 18, 2011, Opinion Filed



 [***328]  [**1133]  WERDEGAR, J.] When a tortiously injured person receives medical care for his or her injuries,  [***329]  the provider of that care often accepts as full payment, pursuant to a preexisting contract with the injured person's health insurer, an amount less than that stated in the provider's bill. In that circumstance, may the injured person recover from the tortfeasor, as economic damages for past medical expenses, the undiscounted sum stated in the provider's bill but never paid by or on behalf of the injured person? We hold no such recovery is allowed, for the simple reason that the injured plaintiff did not suffer any economic loss in that amount. (See Civ. Code, §§ 3281 [damages are awarded to compensate for detriment suffered], 3282 [detriment is a loss or harm to person or property].)

CA(1)(1) The   collateral source rule, which precludes deduction of compensation the plaintiff has received from sources independent of the tortfeasor from damages the plaintiff “would otherwise collect from the tortfeasor” (Helfend v. Southern Cal. Rapid Transit Dist. (1970) 2 Cal.3d 1, 6 [84 Cal. Rptr. 173, 465 P.2d 61] (Helfend)), ensures that plaintiff here may recover in damages the amounts her insurer paid for her medical care. The rule, however, has no bearing on amounts that were included in a provider's bill but for which the plaintiff never incurred liability because the provider, by prior agreement, accepted a lesser amount as full payment. Such sums are not damages the  [*549]  plaintiff would otherwise have collected from the defendant. They are neither paid to the providers on the plaintiff's behalf nor paid to the plaintiff in indemnity of his or her expenses. Because they do not represent an economic loss for the plaintiff, they are not recoverable in the first instance. The collateral source rule precludes certain deductions against otherwise recoverable damages, but does not expand the scope of economic damages to include expenses the plaintiff never incurred.

Factual and Procedural Background

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52 Cal. 4th 541 *; 257 P.3d 1130 **; 129 Cal. Rptr. 3d 325 ***; 76 Cal. Comp. Cases 1147 ****; 2011 Cal. LEXIS 8119

REBECCA HOWELL, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. HAMILTON MEATS & PROVISIONS, INC., Defendant and Respondent.

Subsequent History: Reported at Howell (Rebecca) v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc., 2011 Cal. LEXIS 8768 (Cal., Aug. 18, 2011)

Time for Granting or Denying Rehearing Extended Howell (Rebecca) v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc., 2011 Cal. LEXIS 9437 (Cal., Sept. 8, 2011)

Rehearing denied by Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, 2011 Cal. LEXIS 11417 (Cal., Nov. 2, 2011)

Petition for Rehearing and Request(s) for Modification Denied by Supreme Court November 2, 2011

Prior History:  [1] Civil No. D053620—Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One; San Diego County Superior Court No. GIN053925—Hon. Adrienne A. Orfield, Judge

Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc., 179 Cal. App. 4th 686, 101 Cal. Rptr. 3d 805, 2009 Cal. App. LEXIS 1874 (Cal. App. 4th Dist., 2009)

Disposition: Petition for review from a judgment of the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One. Petition for review granted, judgment reversed, and matter remanded.


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Torts, Damages, Collateral Source Rule, Insurance Payments, Compensatory Damages, Types of Losses, Medical Expenses, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Compensatory Damages, General Overview, Insurance Law, Claim, Contract & Practice Issues, Subrogation, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Evidence, Relevance, Exclusion of Relevant Evidence, Confusion, Prejudice & Waste of Time, Appeals, Standards of Review, Reversible Errors, Admissibility, Procedural Matters, Rulings on Evidence, Gratuitous Benefits, Collateral Source Rule, Conduct Evidence, Payment of Medical Expenses, Judgments, Relief From Judgments, Motions for New Trials