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Medical Bills Relevant to Damages Even When Plaintiff Is Not Seeking to Recover Medical Expenses, Indiana Appellate Court Rules

03.29.2021 Written by Chuck Niblick

In Gladstone v. West Bend Mut. Ins. Co., — N.E.3d —, 2021 WL 1113900 (Ind. Ct. App. 2021), the Indiana Court of Appeals held, just this past week (week of March 22, 2021), that a trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing a defendant UIM carrier to introduce the plaintiff’s medical bills even though plaintiff was only seeking damages for pain and suffering.

This case grabbed the attention of both the Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana and Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, with each submitting amicus briefs to support their positions.

Daniel Gladstone was injured in an auto accident, and he sued the tortfeasor for negligence and his insurer, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company, for underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage of up to $200,000. Gladstone settled with the tortfeasor for her policy limits of $50,000. Gladstone dropped his claim for medical expenses and decided to only pursue pain and suffering. West Bend nevertheless sought to introduce Gladstone’s medical bills at trial over objection which showed $14,000 in medical bills, $2,000 after adjustments. The jury ultimately awarded Gladstone $0. Gladstone appealed, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the medical bills in as evidence.

The Court of Appeals disagreed and held, “Common sense and experience dictate that a more serious injury generally brings with it greater medical expenses as well as greater pain and suffering.” However, the court found that, in some cases, the probative value may be substantially outweighed by the “danger of prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, or presenting cumulative evidence.” The Indiana Rules of Evidence favor admissibility, and the court found that Gladstone failed to prove that he was unfairly prejudiced because such evidence goes to weight which is ultimately for a jury decision. “If, in the estimation of one of the parties, the amount of the medical bills does not accurately reflect the amount of pain and suffering, that party is free to counter it with other evidence and argument…”

This decision, as the court noted, was a matter of first impression in Indiana. Although this case appears promising to the defense bar, there is a possibility that the Indiana Supreme Court will take the case. In any event, it will be interesting to follow to see how, if at all, this decision will impact litigation.

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