Burt True, lawyer with True & Associates discusses a new Missouri Supreme Court case, Deck v. Teasley.
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In 2005, the Missouri legislature enacted a series of laws which they called "tort reform." The legislators bought the argument by corporations that frivolous litigation was hurting the economy. Of course, as you might expect, the economy tanked even though the legislature enacted tort reform laws. So, once again, the government created a problem and then solved it. The real effect of tort reform laws was to limit the ability for injured people to be compensated for their injuries. This protects corporations and mainly insurance companies, but not the economy.
One of the laws that was enacted in the tort reform legislation is Missouri Statute 490.715.5. This law seems to limit the amount an injured person can recover for their medical expenses to the amount actually paid. As we all know, there is a huge difference between what the hospital bills you and what they accept as payment (from Medicare, Medicaid, MO HealthNet, Health Insurance, etc.). So the negligent driver's insurance company tries to take advantage of the fact that the injured person has insurance that negotiates a lower rate for medical bills.
The Missouri Supreme Court weighed in on this issue in a recent case called Deck v. Teasley. The Supreme Court found that the trial court made a mistake when it prevented the injured person from presenting evidence of unpaid medical expenses. These were medical expenses the injured woman was not obligated to pay. Some of the expenses were covered by Medicare, which pays at a rate much lower than the hospital bills. The trial court limited the injured woman to presenting evidence of her medical expenses that were actually paid or that she was obligated to pay. But the injured woman had presented substantial evidence that the amount she was billed was the value of medical treatment rendered. She had the medical providers testify to this. The Supreme Court clarified that when "the presumption is rebutted, the party's other evidence of value, as well as the amount necessary to satisfy the financial obligations, is admitted at trial as if no presumption exists."
What does this mean? It means that if you are injured, you must get a lawyer that focuses on personal injury claims. You should not get a lawyer that also handles divorces, probate, criminal defense. Because that lawyer will not be able to keep up with the fast changing law in this complex area. If your lawyer does not realize what evidence they can present at trial, then they cannot negotiate a good settlement for you. You can bet the insurance company has an army of lawyers that are aware of this new Supreme Court case.
It also means that the negligent person that injured you cannot take advantage of your health insurance, Medicare coverage, or Medicaid (MO HealthNet) coverage. So, your lawyer can add value by recovering for your medical expenses and then negotiating down the lien amount—the amount that has to be repaid to your health insurance company or the government. This means more net settlement proceeds for you, the injured person. That is how it should be.
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