Fifth District Court Of Appeals Affirms Application Of Howell To Medicare And Medi-Cal

Headshot of Robert F BennettOn April 8, 2013, the Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeals published James Luttrell v. Island Pacific Supermarkets, Inc., where it affirmed the application of Howell v. Hamilton Meats (2011) 52 Cal.4th 541, to medical damages paid by Medicare and Medi-Cal. In the case, Luttrell appealed from an amended judgment entered after a jury verdict and post-trial rulings in his personal injury action. In the original action, defendant attempted to limit introduction of evidence at trial regarding the amounts charged for Luttrell’s medical care alleging that only the amounts paid were admissible under Howell. While the trial court denied the request in limine, a post-verdict motion brought by Island Pacific was granted reducing the amount awarded for past medical damages to those amount actually paid instead of those amounts charged. The disparity in the amounts charged versus the amount paid for Luttrell’s past medical care was $118,027.25. Accordingly, the trial court reduced the plaintiff’s award regarding Luttrell’s past medical damages from $256,109.50 to $138,082.25.

In affirming the trial court’s ruling, the appellate court discussed Howell and those related cases which were decided before it. In conformity with Howell the court noted a plaintiff typically may not recover more than the actual amounts paid by him or on his behalf for past medical services, even though the amounts billed for those services were greater. The appellate court also harmonized the reduction by concluding that because Luttrell’s liability to medical providers for his past medical services was limited to the amounts Medicare and Medi-Cal actually paid. Thus, Luttrell’s recovery from Island Pacific for past medical services must be limited to those amounts actually paid.

With this decision, the reach of Howell to the calibration of plaintiff’s special damages has been affirmed to extend not only to private insurers but also to government sponsored insurance plans such as Medicare and Medi-Cal.


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