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Aug 11 Attorney Articles

Inflated, Lien-Based Medical Bills Now Admissible in California

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On August 11, 2021, the California Court of Appeal issued its decision in Qaadir v. Figueroa (available here), which is a decidedly plaintiff-friendly decision holding unpaid medical bills are admissible as evidence of damages in a personal injury case.  By way of background, in 2011, the California Supreme Court held that an award of economic damages in a personal injury case is limited to the lesser of (1) the amount paid or incurred and (2) the reasonable value of services rendered.  (Howell v. Hamilton Meats & Provisions, Inc. (2011) 52 Cal.4th 541.)  Since Howell, defendants in personal injury cases consistently argued – most of the time successfully so – that unpaid medical bills are inadmissible to show past economic damages.

Since Howell, various court decisions have both expanded upon and limited the holding in Howell; some decisions favoring the defense (e.g., the Ochoa v. Dorado (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 120 line of cases), some favoring the plaintiff (e.g., the Pebley v. Santa Clara Organics, LLC  (2018) 22 Cal.App.5th 1266 line of cases.).  Qaadir examined both Ochoa (supporting the argument the bills are not admissible), and Pebley (supporting the argument that medical bills are admissible under certain circumstances), and concluded that Pebley controls.  In so holding, the Court of Appeal concluded that unpaid medical bills are admissible even in the absence of expert testimony that the bills constitute the “reasonable value” of the medical services.

Although Qaadir is decidedly “pro-plaintiff,” the Court of Appeal also held that it was error for the trial court to exclude evidence that the Plaintiff’s attorney referred him to lien-based doctors, which is a small victory for the defense in cases involving lien-based care.

Qaadir will effect both how defense addresses damages in a personal injury case, as well as how client and insurance carriers evaluate damages when the attorney refers Plaintiffs to lien-based doctors.  At a minimum, we can expect an even greater frequency of lien-based medical treatment in personal injury cases.