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Appellate Division Rules That Plaintiff’s Medical Bills Incurred Due to Personal Injury Were Admissible at Trial Against Public Entity

By on July 15, 2022 in Evidence with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Katesha Salmond appealed from a summary judgment order granted to a public entity bus company and its driver, dismissing her personal injury complaint.  She was injured on a public bus and incurred substantial medical expenses for her injuries.  One issue in the Salmond case, 2022 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1282 (App. Div. July 14, 2022), was whether her medical bills were admissible at the time of trial because the plaintiff had or should have received benefits from her health insurer for payment of these bills.

The plaintiff and her children had been traveling to her children’s school in Newark on a New Jersey public bus.  As the bus approached their stop, she stood up to exit.  She claims that the bus driver suddenly moved the bus forward, slammed on the brakes, causing her to fall to the floor.  As a result of this incident, the plaintiff Salmond claimed that she underwent physical therapy and chiropractic treatments for months due to her pain that she was allegedly experiencing in her neck, back, shoulder, and knee.  She underwent outpatient surgeries on her back and neck, as well as multiple knee injections.

Thereafter, she filed a lawsuit against the bus company and the bus driver for her injuries.  She incurred $554,000 in medical expenses related to her incident.  Although she had health insurance on the date of her fall, her health insurer did not pay any of her medical expenses.  It was unclear from the record whether she submitted her medical bills to her health insurer and whether her insurer would be required to pay her medical claims.

The defendant bus company and driver moved for summary judgment on a substantive basis and also moved to bar the admission of her medical bills at the time of trial.  As for the medical bills, the trial court judge concluded that the collateral source doctrine barred plaintiff from testifying as to her unpaid medical bills because she was entitled to receive benefits from her health insurer but elected not to submit them.  The judge relied upon the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:9-2(e), which provided that if a claimant is entitled to benefits from a collateral source, the court must deduct the amount of those benefits from any damage award against a public entity.

Upon appeal, in addition to appealing the substantive ruling, the plaintiff appealed the ruling that the medical bills were not admissible at the time of trial.

The Appellate Division ruled that the trial judge had misconstrued
N.J.S.A. 59:9-2(e) as precluding plaintiff from presenting evidence of or seeking recovery of her unpaid medical bills.  This statutory provision provides that if a claimant receives or is entitled to receive benefits from a policy of insurance, “such benefits shall be disclosed to the court and the amount thereof which duplicates any benefit contained in the award shall be deducted from any award against a public entity or public employee recovered by such claimant.”

Thus, the Appellate Division noted that a public entity may seek credits against a damage award for any payment plaintiffs received or are entitled to receive from collateral sources for their injuries.  The Court explained that the purpose of this provision is to prevent plaintiffs from receiving duplicate benefits.

However, the Appellate Division found that plaintiffs are not precluded from presenting evidence of damages for which payment has been received from collateral sources, even if they chose not to do so for strategic reasons.

Thus, the Court concluded that the plaintiff Salmond was not precluded from presenting evidence of her unpaid medical bills to a jury. The Appellate Division ruled that if she received a damages award, “the trial court would then simply deduct any payments she received or is entitled to receive from her health insurer from the final award.”

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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 30 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020-2023, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

“Best Law Firms” is published by Best Lawyers in partnership with U.S. News & World Report. For a description of the selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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