No. 104538 Wills v. Foster
Appellate citation: 372 Ill. App. 3d 670.
CHIEF JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Freeman, Fitzgerald, Kilbride, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.
An automobile accident in 2001 gave rise to a Sangamon County negligence action seeking recovery for personal injuries. In this appeal, liability is not at issue–the dispute is about damages. Plaintiff had medical bills totaling $80,163.47. Medicare and Medicaid paid $19,005.50 in full settlement of those bills. Before trial, defendant moved to limit plaintiff’s evidence of medical expenses to the amount paid by Medicare and Medicaid at the reduced rate, i.e., to only the paid bills. This motion was denied. At trial, the jury awarded the full amount, but the circuit court reduced the award to the amount paid by Medicare and Medicaid, and the appellate court affirmed. In this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court stood by the collateral-source rule, which prevents jurors from learning that the plaintiff has insurance or has received benefits from any other source. Adopting the “reasonable value” approach to this rule, the court held that a plaintiff may submit evidence of unpaid medical bills, but, for them to be admitted, a foundation must be laid showing that they represent the reasonable value of medical expenses incurred. The defendant is then free to cross-examine any witnesses plaintiff may call to establish reasonableness and is free to call defense witnesses to testify that the billed amounts do not reflect the reasonable value of the services. The defendant may not, however, introduce evidence that the bills were settled for a lesser amount. The supreme court held that the circuit court’s initial pretrial ruling was correct. However, the defense subsequently stipulated to the amount of the unpaid bills, and offered no evidence or objection on the question of their reasonableness, taking the position that the written-off amount was not recoverable as a matter of law. In this decision, the supreme court held that the defense had thus relieved the plaintiff of the burden of establishing the foundation requirement of reasonableness. Once the full unpaid bills were properly admitted into evidence, as was the case here, it was for the jury to decide whether to award all, part or none of those bills. After the jury awarded the entire amount, the circuit court had no basis for reducing it and should not have done so. The cause was remanded.