Good news for Californians trying to collect their medical expenses from those responsible for causing injury (or their insurance companies). The news comes from the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling in the case of Bermudez v Ciolek. The opinion was published on June 22, 2015. Here is why the ruling is important. Mr. Bermudez was on a bicycle. He was hit by a car driven by Ms. Ciolek. She was found to be negligent. Mr. Bermudez had no insurance. His medical bills were nearly a half million dollars. The lawyers for Ms. Ciolek’s insurance company claimed that the jury should not be told the amount of the medical expenses Mr. Bermudez incurred. The Court of Appeal agreed with Mr. Bermudez that the amount billed by doctors and hospitals is relevant evidence that should be admitted at trial. The Court issued a 36 page opinion that includes a lengthy discussion of other court cases dealing with evidence of medical expenses. Sadly, many California courts in recent years have put restrictions on the evidence that is allowed in court when it comes to past medical expenses. This Court ruling makes it clear that juries can and should be allowed to see how much the doctors and hospitals billed for the care provided to someone making a personal injury claim in court.
This ruling is important for all Californians because there is now no question that people who cause injury (like someone who runs a red light) should not be able to hide from the jury evidence of the consequences of their negligence. Also, the ruling is encouraging to me in light of a recent trial. I represented a young woman who was hurt because of someone elses negligence. My client had no insurance and incurred thousands in medical expenses. At trial, the judge ruled that I could not present those medical bills as evidence. On behalf of my client I argued that the judge was wrong and was not reading the laws and cases correctly. However, the judge would not budge on the very restrictive ruling. I won the trial, but was not able to collect the full amount of medical expenses my client incurred. Thankfully, after the verdict my clients’ doctors were very sympathetic and agreed to reduce their bills. The recent ruling from the Court of Appeal in the Bermudez v Ciolek case confirms what I told the judge in my case: that a person who has no insurance and has to go to doctors to treat injuries caused by someone elses negligence should be able to present those bills before the jury.