On August 28, a change in Missouri law will change how personal injury lawsuits are presented and some lawyers argue it could affect payouts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2012, the most recent year they published statistics online, 2.5 million Americans ended up in the emergency room with injuries from car crashes. On average, each crash-related emergency room visit cost $3,300 and each hospitalization cost about $57,000 over a person’s lifetime, according to the CDC.
After August 28, under the medical expenses portion of a personal injury lawsuit, the victim will only be allowed to present the amount paid to the hospital and the amount still owed to the hospital. The jury will no longer hear how much the hospital originally billed the patient.
Some personal injury lawyers argue that could be a difference of thousands of dollars since often hospitals and insurance companies negotiate to reduce the bill.
“Part of the benefit of having health insurance is the health insurance company works on your behalf to get those bills reduced or adjusted,” said Ryan Cox, a personal injury lawyer and founder of Ryan R Cox & Associates. “What our state legislature and governor have essentially decided is ‘We want the hospitals, the medical providers, to absorb those costs.’ Instead of the rule breaker paying the full cost of the damage they’ve caused, they’re asking the hospitals, the doctors, the medical providers, to write those off.”
State Senator Ed Emery (R), of District 31, co-sponsored the bill. He told News 4 that claim is a red herring. He said the bill is about “trying to simplify the court process,” and adds this is purely an “accounting issue.”
However, Cox cautioned the change could have such a negative impact as to increase healthcare costs as hospitals and insurers compensate for the change. He believes it also punishes those who pay for insurance.
“If you’re injured in a crash and you don’t have medical insurance, you’re still going to be able to recover the full cost of your medical expenses. If you do have health insurance, you won’t be able to recover the full amount charged. Typically, you’re going to be limited to the amount that was actually paid for those medical expenses and the amount owed,” said Cox.
Rep. Joe Don McGaugh (D), of District 39, released a statement noting the medical expense portion of a personal injury lawsuit is only one part of the equation a jury will consider. His statement reads:SB 31 is common sense legislation because it makes sense to only pay people back what the actual cost of their injuries were. In a civil lawsuit, there are a lot of different ways for them to decide what the case is work and how someone needs to be made whole. Opponents to this bill always try to say that this takes away people’s day in court and seriously limits their lawsuit, all we’re talking about is special damages, which are medical bills. There are still several other types of damages; economic and non-economic damages, pain and suffering damages, and punitive damages - that could help the injured party.Cox added that the change was misguided, as he believes the bill’s sponsors were trying to decrease big payouts.
“It’s based on a false narrative that lawsuits are out of control, personal injury suits are out of control. But if you look at the numbers, less than .2 percent of all judgments over are $500,000. And that’s not a lot,” said Cox.
Cox said it’s still a bit unclear how cases will be handled for people who were in a crash prior to August 28th but don’t file a suit until after the 28th. However, he believes cases already filed before the 28th, even if they haven’t been settled yet, will still be handled under the former protocol.
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