Don Willenburg and John Hughes of the San Francisco office published another article in the Daily Journal about last week's California Supreme Court decision limiting medical special damages. In Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, the court ruled "that an injured plaintiff whose medical expenses are paid through private insurance may recover as economic damages no more than the amounts paid by the plaintiff or his or her insurer" and accepted by the providers as payment in full. Plaintiffs have argued that they are entitled to a "reasonable value" for such services, to be determined by the amount billed by the hospital, regardless of the amount actually paid or accepted. Howell rejected this position, holding that medical billing is not necessarily a proxy for actual value, and that the market price on which insurers and providers agree is the best evidence of the value and the detriment actually incurred.
The article identifies some key questions remaining after Howell, including whether billed amounts may be admissible as to issues other than the amount of past medical special damages. The article also predicts some plaintiff bar attempts to limit or overturn this ruling, including by legislation. Finally, the article offers suggestions for defense counsel in the wake of the Howell decision, including to propound discovery as to the amounts actually paid and accepted between insurers and medical providers. Such discovery has heretofore been objected to as violating the collateral source rule, but this decision has put an end to that objection.
Willenburg and Hughes previously published an article about this case last spring, just before it was argued at the Supreme Court.