In a recent case, Higgs v. Costa Crociere S.P.A., 969 F.3d 1295 (11th Cir. 08/1420), the Eleventh Circuit found that in a maritime tort action, the jury should determine the reasonable value of medical damages upon consideration of all relevant evidence.
Higgs v. Costa Crociere S.P.A. – Background
A cruise ship passenger sued the shipowner for damages after she tripped over a cleaning bucket that had been left near a buffet line, resulting in her falling and breaking her arm. Following trial, a jury returned a verdict in excess of $1,000,000 in general damages and $61,000 in past medical expenses. The district court reduced the award of medical expenses to $16,326.01, which was the amount that had been paid by the plaintiff’s group health carrier to her providers.
On appeal, plaintiff argued that the district court was in error in reducing her medical expenses and the Eleventh Circuit agreed and reversed. In a case of first impression in that circuit, the Eleventh Circuit found that in a maritime tort action, the jury should determine the reasonable value of medical damages upon consideration of all relevant evidence. The amounts billed by the providers and the amounts paid by any insurers are admissible as relevant to the question of fixing value, but a rule limiting damages to the amount actually paid was found to be an improper cap on awardable damages.
The court recognized that insurance carriers commonly pay only a fraction of the services billed for healthcare, but that the collateral source rule prohibits reduction of medical charges to the amount paid in a maritime action. The jury had the benefit of seeing the amounts billed as well as the amounts paid to the plaintiff and it determined the billed amount was the appropriate measure of damages. The Eleventh Circuit held that it is within the jury’s discretion to consider all of the evidence of amounts billed and paid and make a determination as to the amount that will compensate the plaintiff.