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Larry D. Rice, Jr v. the District of Columbia

February 25, 2011

LARRY D. RICE, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION REGARDING MEDICAL BILLS AND NEGLIGENCE CLAIMS

This case concerns the arrest and shooting of Larry D. Rice, Jr., by Officers John Stathers and Derek Starliper of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. Trial begins next Monday, February 28, 2011. As a result of arguments at the pretrial conference on February 10, 2011, the Court allowed the parties to file additional motions in limine - regarding the admission into evidence of Mr. Rice's medical bills and regarding Mr. Rice's claims of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The Court's reasoning on the outstanding motions are addressed here; to assist the parties' trial preparation, the Court has already issued a Minute Entry Order notifying them of its holdings. See Minute Order filed Feb. 24, 2011. For background facts, the reader is directed to the Court's earlier Memorandum Opinion regarding Defendants' motion for summary judgment on claims relating to false arrest. See Mem. Op. [Dkt. # 67].

I. Plaintiff's Motion to Introduce Medical Bills At Trial

Mr. Rice was seriously injured when he was shot in the stomach. He underwent surgery, and he spent two episodes in Washington area hospitals. The costs for his medical care were paid or will be paid by D.C. Medicaid; those in excess of what Medicaid pays were (or will be) written off by the providers.*fn1 Mr. Rice moves to introduce "any and all bills . . . to assist the jury in determining not only the amount of damages to award Plaintiff, if any, but also to assist them in assessing the severity of the injuries sustained by Plaintiff," in his case in chief against the District of Columbia and the Officers. Pl.'s Mot. to Introduce Medical Bills [Dkt. # 60] at 1. He argues that "the jury would . . . be precluded from rendering a fair award if they did not have the benefit of considering all expenses incurred as a result of this incident." Id. at 5. The Court will deny the motion.

A. Introduction of Medical Bills Against the District of Columbia

Plaintiff may not introduce the medical bills as part of his case against the District of Columbia. The medical bills do not represent "expenses incurred" by Plaintiff as a result of this incident. See McAmis v. Wallace, 980 F. Supp. 181, 185 (W.D. Va. 1997) (cited with approval in Hardi v. Mezzanotte, 818 A.2d 974, 983 (D.C. 2003)). Presenting these bills to the jury as if Plaintiff were responsible himself for their payment invites confusion and a potentially erroneous verdict.

Further, "the injured party must establish personal liability, at some time, for th[e] amount'" he seeks to recover for medical expenses. Hardi, 818 A.2d at 983 (quoting McAmis, 980 F. Supp. at 185). "[I]f all medical expenses have been (or will be) paid by Medicaid, plaintiff . . . shall not seek recovery of such expenses" against the District of Columbia. District of Columbia v. Jackson, 451 A.2d 867, 874 (D.C. 1982) (emphasis added).*fn2 Only if a plaintiff shares liability for his medical bills beyond what Medicaid pays does the court "require special findings by the jury as to the amount of medical expenses awarded as part of each verdict [and] . . . then . . . allocate to each special finding the amount, if any, paid (or to be paid) by Medicaid," entering a judgment that deducts the Medicaid amount(s) so allocated. Id. at 874. Plaintiff invokes the "collateral source doctrine," which provides that an injured party may recover in full from a wrongdoer regardless of anything the injured party may obtain from a collateral source wholly unconnected with the wrongdoer, such as from an insurer. Hudson v. Lazarus, 217 F.2d 344, 346 (D.C. Cir. 1954). Medicaid, however, is not a collateral source vis-a-vis the District of Columbia, as Medicaid is not "wholly independent" of the District. Jackson, 451 A.2d at 874. The District established and administers its Medicaid program with some matching funds from the federal government. Id. Thus, Plaintiff may not introduce his medical bills against the District of Columbia.

B. Introduction of Medical Bills Against the Officers

A different analysis applies when considering whether Plaintiff may introduce his medical bills as part of his case in chief against the Officers, who are sued individually. The District argues that it has conceded that the Officers were acting within the scope of their authority and that they, therefore, should be treated as the District of Columbia under the collateral source rule. The Court is not persuaded that the alleged torts and constitutional violations*fn3 for which Plaintiff seeks to hold the Officers personally responsible can be squeezed into that tent.

A "[d]efendant is not permitted to avoid compensating his victim merely because [he] was able to qualify for Medicaid benefits." McAmis, 980 F. Supp. at 185. When a defendant is not the government entity funding Medicaid, a Medicaid beneficiary/plaintiff can recover what Medicaid paid for his treatment as if Medicaid were private insurance. Id. However, a plaintiff may not recover amounts in excess of what Medicaid paid; a plaintiff cannot recover for charges written off by medical providers. The collateral source rule does not apply to write off amounts because the plaintiff is not personally liable for such amounts and "did not incur the Medicaid discount." Id. at 184-85.

Thus, Mr. Rice might recover from the Officers "the actual costs of medical care borne by Medicaid. These are the amounts that [a plaintiff] has incurred for the purposes of the collateral source rule." Id. at 185 (citing Rayfield v. Lawrence, 253 F.2d 209, 213 (4th Cir. 1958) and Manko v. United States, 830 F.2d 831, 836 (8th Cir. 1987)). Plaintiff, however, indicates that he does not know what actual costs were paid by Medicaid; all he has are the gross bills from medical care providers. These gross bills are not admissible at trial.*fn4

Plaintiff seeks to present "any and all" medical bills to the jury and asks the Court to determine, after trial, what amounts should be deducted from a jury award because it was already, or will be, paid by Medicaid. See Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. #60] at 2 (citing Reid v. District of Columbia, 391 A.2d 776, 778 (D.C. 1978) (whether a setoff is proper is a matter of law for the court's determination and the court should adjust the jury's verdict accordingly), vacated in part on other grounds, 399 A.2d 1293 (D.C. 1978). But that is not the question vis-a-vis a non-governmental defendant. Under the analysis of McAmis, Plaintiff may recover from the Officers (and not from the District) what Medicaid paid and no more. To allow a more generous recovery would be an impermissible windfall to Plaintiff.

Reid v. District of Columbia is not to the contrary. In Reid, evidence that the plaintiff had failed to apply for Medicaid benefits, and thus, arguably, failed to mitigate his damages, was admitted before the jury in error. Even if the plaintiff's bills were fully paid by Medicaid, the court found that this fact still should not have been presented to the jury because it was "an invitation for the jury to speculate that if they find no liability, plaintiff will still be reimbursed for his losses through Medicaid. There was no evidence that Medicaid would actually pay the bills . . . ." 391 A.2d at 781.

In accordance with Reid, the Court also will preclude the parties from mentioning Medicaid to the jury. Reid, 391 A.2d at 781. There is no need. The jury can be told that there is no dispute about (or the parties have stipulated to) Plaintiff's medical expenses. Without specifying the amount at issue, the jury can be asked to decide whether Plaintiff should be awarded compensatory damages for his medical expenses as against the Officers. His gross medical bills will be excluded from evidence against all ...


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