Supreme Inequity to Plaintiffs, a Message of Irresponsibility and No Practical Guidance for Trial Judges & Attorneys
Last year, the California Supreme Court delivered its opinion in Howell v. Hamilton Meats (S179115, Filed 8/18/2011). The decision skews the civil justice system in favor of liability insurers and corporate defendants, leaving prevailing plaintiffs a lesser recovery in every case.
It also fails to provide guidance to trial courts and attorneys in applying the holding in a manner consistent with the California Evidence Code. In the following two articles, Scott Sumner discusses the implications of Howell on social justice, as well as the intersection of Howell and the laws of evidence.
Without justice, how can the civil system be respected?
An abiding and recurrent theme of the Judicial Council, the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, and of the bar in general is a desire to rebuild public trust and respect for the civil justice system. The implicit call is for us all to contribute time and money to public relations education and outreach. However, no matter how well-intentioned and well-funded such efforts are, how can they succeed if they do not square up with the experiences of individuals who take part in our public justice system?
Past medical damages recoverable by people who carry health insurance are no longer based on the actual cost of those services, but instead are limited to the negotiated cash payments made by plaintiffs health plan, any copayments or deductibles, as well as any amounts still owing. That result plainly inures to the benefit of tortfeasor defendants, despite the fact that the negotiated rates exists solely as a function of plaintiff’s investment in health insurance to indemnify himself against the full charge rates of medical providers in the event he required care, and despite the fact defendants are neither party to these collateral contracts nor intended beneficiaries of these contracts.
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