Law School Case Brief
Hoffman v. 21st Century N. Am. Ins. Co. - 2014-2279 ( La. 10/02/15), 209 So. 3d 702
Louisiana declines to extend the collateral source rule to attorney-negotiated medical discounts obtained through the litigation process. Such a discount is not a payment or benefit that falls within the ambit of the collateral source rule. First, allowing a plaintiff to recover an amount for which he has not paid, and for which he has no obligation to pay, is at cross purposes with the basic principles of tort recovery in the Louisiana Civil Code. The wrongdoer is responsible only for the damages he or she has caused. La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2315. The plaintiff has suffered no diminution of his patrimony to obtain the write-off, and, therefore, the defendant cannot be held responsible for any medical bills or services the plaintiff did not actually incur and which the plaintiff need not repay.
Plaintiff Eddie Hoffman was injured in October 2010, when his vehicle was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Carolyn Elzy. The accident occurred at or near the intersection of Old Hammond Highway and Sharp Road in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Mr. Hoffman filed suit against Ms. Elzy and her insurer, 21st Century North America Insurance Company ("Century"), for damages allegedly resulting from the accident. At the conclusion of trial, the court ruled in favor of Mr. Hoffman as to the issue of liability. It found Ms. Elzy 100 percent at fault for the accident. The trial court awarded Mr. Hoffman $4,500 in general damages and $2,478 for special medical expenses for a total award of $6,978.
Mr. Hoffman appealed the verdict alleging inter alia that the award for special damages was erroneous. With regard to special damages, Mr. Hoffman asserted the trial court erred in awarding only $2,478 for past medical expenses even though Mr. Hoffman had presented evidence of $4,528 in past medical expenses. The appellate court affirmed the verdict of the trial court in all respects. On rehearing, the appellate court affirmed its previous decision, reasoning the trial court had been presented with two conflicting medical bills and its choice between them was not manifestly erroneous.
Was a write-off from a medical provider, which was negotiated by an attorney for a patient who was injured in an automobile accident, considered a collateral source from which the tortfeasor received no set-off?
Affirming, the Supreme Court of Louisiana held that the plaintiff, Mr. Hoffman, did not incur any additional expense in order to receive the attorney-negotiated "write-off," nor had he suffered any diminution in his patrimony. Therefore, he cannot receive the advantage of the collateral source rule. Additionally, allowing the plaintiff to recover expenses he has not actually incurred himself, and for which he has no obligation to pay, is contrary to Louisiana Civil Code article 2315. Because Mr. Hoffman did not actually incur the "written-off" portion of the charges, the collateral source rule does not apply. The Court found that the appellate court did not err in determining that Mr. Hoffman was entitled to reimbursement of $950, the actual amount paid to and accepted by the medical provider, as opposed to the initial charged amount of $3,000.
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