Under Indiana law, the jury can consider both economic and non-economic damages evidence in awarding a verdict to a personal injury claimant. While economic damages are easy to calculate, the dollar value placed on intangible, non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, are difficult to quantify. Accordingly, a plaintiff’s attorney will often attempt to place a high-dollar value on, for example, “severe pain and suffering” in hopes that the jury will be persuaded by the plaintiff’s damage valuation.
The first way for defense counsel to mitigate this has always been to draw a correlation between the dollar value placed on the alleged pain and suffering and the extent of medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury. To avoid this, especially on cases with low medical specials, the plaintiff’s bar would often not move to admit the bills. Then, many times trial courts would prevent the defense from admitting the bills in its case on relevancy grounds.
As a result, Indiana plaintiff’s attorneys developed a trend of declining to seek compensation for incurred medical expenses and instead just focusing on pain and suffering and “soft damages” to let the jury make its own estimate. The trial results were often discordant – producing much higher dollar amounts than would be expected on cases with low medical costs.
A recent appellate decision, however, has curbed this tide in reaching another critical evidentiary ruling which has reshaped Indiana’s personal-injury litigation landscape. On March 24, 2021, in a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals in Gladstone v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Company addressed the question of whether evidence of medical bills is admissible where recovery of them is not sought. There, the plaintiff sustained injuries from an automobile accident and, after settling with the tortfeasor, sought damages for only pain and suffering against his insurance provider. Over plaintiff’s relevancy objection, the trial court allowed the provider to introduce evidence that plaintiff incurred $14,000 in medical bills which had been reduced to just under $2,000 after insurance payments and discounts. The jury ultimately rendered a $0 verdict, which was upheld on appeal.
The Court of Appeals declined to adopt a bright-line rule that evidence of medical bills is always inadmissible on relevancy grounds when their recovery is not sought, noting that “[c]ommon sense and experience dictate that a more serious injury generally brings with it greater medical expenses as well as greater pain and suffering. ”The Court furthered that the provider “cleared the low bar for establishing the relevance of [plaintiff’s] medical bills. . .” and that while there are cases where low medical bills may not accurately reflect the amount of pain and suffering, “that does not mean that evidence of medical bills is irrelevant.” Notably, the Court also made point to mention that medical bills may be excluded from evidence “if the probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” To this end, the Court noted that this was not one of those cases.
The Gladstone opinion serves as a major win for the Indiana defense bar in recognizing that common sense dictates consideration of medical expenses incurred from an injury when valuating the degree of pain and suffering purportedly resulting from the same injury. Defendants are now able to help paint the full picture to a jury by presenting tangible evidence of otherwise unclaimed medical expenses in relation to the dollar value placed on unquantifiable pain and suffering injuries. This will undoubtedly serve to limit the occurrence of excessive jury verdicts in lawsuits primarily predicated on intangible pain and suffering claims.
If you would like a full copy of the opinion or if you have any other questions related to defending general casualty lawsuits, please contact a member of our firm’s General Liability/Surplus Risks Practice Group.
 The seminal Indiana Supreme Court case of Stanley v. Walker helped set the stage for this evidentiary ruling in holding that a jury may consider two figures to determine an award for the “reasonable value of medical expenses” incurred by an injured plaintiff – the total amount billed by a health care provider for services rendered, as well as the reduced billings secured by a plaintiff’s insurer and ultimately accepted by the health care provider as full satisfaction. 906 N.E.2d 852 (Ind. 2009).
This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.
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