THE MCMILLIAN LAW FIRM - PROVIDING AGGRESSIVE AND COMPASSIONATE LEGAL REPRESENTATION FOR CAR ACCIDENT VICTIMS OF CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC
In previous articles in this blog, I have discussed how accident victims can maximize the value of a personal injury claim. Many of the previous articles stressed the "process" of a claim arising out of an auto accident. For instance, a claim is more valuable if the victim seeks immediate medical treatments and documents injuries with a medical service provider. The previous articles focused on what the accident victim and the lawyer can do to get top dollar in a personal injury settlement or verdict.
This article, however, is going to focus on how South Carolina law can assist in maximizing a personal injury claim for a car accident victim. South Carolina courts observe and routinely uphold the legal doctrine known as the Collateral Source Rule. This article will go into some detail in explaining how the collateral source rule works and how it is a very friendly tool for car accident victims in South Carolina.
WHAT IS THE "COLLATERAL SOURCE RULE"?
The collateral source rule, as defined by the Supreme Court of South Carolina, means that “compensation received by an injured party from a source wholly independent of the wrongdoer will not reduce the amount of damages owed by the wrongdoer.” C&S Bank of South Carolina v. Gregory, 320 S.C. 90, 463 SE 2d 317 (S.C. 1995). What exactly does this mean? The collateral source rules states that any source of funds (most commonly insurance) that pays "benefits" on behalf of the innocent injured victim can not be used by the negligent party to reduce the damages owed to the victim.
EXAMPLE: Ms. Jones is driving her automobile when she is struck by Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith is ticketed and deemed to have been at-fault for the accident. Ms. Jones suffers injuries in the accident and is treated at the Emergency Room. The original bill for ER services provided to Ms. Jones is $10,000.00. Ms. Jones has health insurance through her employer. The hospital agrees to accept $3000.00 as payment in full from Ms. Jones health insurer under their mutual negotiated fee plan (a reduction of $7000.00). Ms. Jones health insurance would be considered a collateral source since it is a source of funds independent of the wrongdoer (Mr. Smith) and were not paid on behalf of the wrongdoer.
Therefore, under the collateral source rule, Ms. Jones' real measure of damages from the accident is for the full $10,000.00 that she was billed prior to the application of her health insurance. The collateral source rule prevents Mr. Smith from reducing his liability simply because he injured someone who had third party sources to pay for damage he caused!
The theory behind upholding the collateral source rule is that a benefit or payment made on the behalf of a innocent victim should not be allowed to be used as a tool by the negligent party to avoid and offset the damages caused.
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON "COLLATERAL SOURCES" USED BY ACCIDENT VICTIMS?
The most common "collateral sources" used by car accident victims in South Carolina are:
- Private Health Insurance
I have discussed the application of the collateral source rule as it is applied to private health insurance in the example provided above. Specifically addressing Medicaid (government sponsored health insurance), the South Carolina Supreme Court has expressly held that the collateral source rule is also applicable to Medicaid payments. The court stated that “[s]ince [Medicaid] is a ‘wholly independent' collateral source, [a plaintiff's] damages are not limited by the amounts paid by Medicaid.” The SC Supreme Court further commented that it was “cognizant that several courts hold that the amount paid by Medicaid (or similar programs) is dispositive of the reasonable value of medical services” and that the “basis for these cases appears to be that to allow a plaintiff to claim the billed amount, as opposed to the paid amount, would result in a windfall." In the end, however, the court rejected the findings of other jurisdictions that limit the recovery of Plaintiffs receiving Medicaid benefits, holding that their reasoning was “contrary to the purposes behind the collateral source rule and would result in a windfall to the defendant tortfeasor.” see Haselden v. Davis, 353 S.C. 481, 579 S.E.2d 293 (2003)
Though there is no South Carolina case law directly addressing the effects of the collateral source rule on Medicare benefits, the rationale of the majority opinion and comments from the lone dissenting justice in the Haselden case cited above clearly indicate that the collateral source rule would be applicable to Medicare benefits as well.
LESSON TO TAKE AWAY FROM THE COLLATERAL SOURCE RULE AND ITS APPLICATION IN SOUTH CAROLINA
In the discussion above, the example provided, and the law and cases that were cited, understanding the collateral source rule is as simple as knowing that the fundamental principle of the law of damages is that an innocent accident victim who suffers injuries due to the negligence of another is entitled to recover the reasonable value of medical care and expenses incurred for the treatment of the injuries to the time of trial. South Carolina case law has consistently held that the recovery for medical expenses is controlled by what the services rendered were reasonably worth and not by what was actually paid or contracted to be paid. Understand this principle, and you understand the collateral source rule.
THE MCMILLIAN LAW FIRM - DEDICATED TO SERVING CAR ACCIDENT AND INJURY VICTIMS IN CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC
As a Car Accident and Personal Injury lawyer in my solo practice, I will take all necessary steps to protect your rights and earn just compensation for you as a result of your accident. Through my efforts, I can bring about much needed financial relief to a victim who may be suffering from serious injuries and permanent disability. Being a small firm allows you to have direct access to your lawyer during this entire process, with open lines of communication as we work together towards a viable solution to your specific case.
Being an experienced personal injury attorney, I have experience dealing with insurance companies. I also know where the courthouse is and will not be afraid to call the insurance company to the mat in front of a judge and jury if necessary.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident or due to the negligent or reckless acts of another in Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, James Island, West Ashley, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, North Charleston, or any of the other fine communities of the Low Country, and need to meet with an experienced personal injury lawyer, please contact me to set up your free case evaluation today. Let me help prevent you from being taken advantage of by the insurance company. I am serious and I am here for you! Contact The McMillian Law Firm today @ 843-900-1306