By the Admiralty and Maritime Team

Due to the non-pecuniary nature of pain and suffering, Jones Act seamen will often use various methods to provide the trier of fact with a concrete basis for a damage award for pain and suffering.  One method that Plaintiffs may utilize is to introduce their medical bills for the sole purpose of highlighting the cost of their medical care.  Once the bills have been admitted, Plaintiffs will argue to the trier of fact that the high dollar amount of their medical bills corroborate their pain and suffering.  Alternatively, Defendants may introduce medical bills and point to the low cost of a Plaintiff’s medical care to prove the Plaintiff’s lack of pain and suffering.

It is interesting that the United States Fifth Circuit has not commented on this issue. However, several cases outside the Fifth Circuit hold that there is no correlation between the amount charged by a healthcare provider and a Plaintiff’s pain and suffering.  In Francis v. National RR Passenger Co., 661 F Supp 244, 246 (D.MD. 1998), the District Court held that the “price tag of medical treatment does not tend to prove or disprove anything about the nature and extent of injuries, save for what it cost to treat the injury.”   Thus, evidence of the cost of a Plaintiff’s medical bills is irrelevant.  Evidence of the cost of Plaintiff’s medical bills was also excluded in Clark v. National Railway Passenger Corp., 653 F Supp, 376 (DDC 1987), and Pierson v. Illinois Central Railroad, 2008 W.L. 905915 (S.D. Il.).

In a recent ruling closer to home, United States District Judge Lance Africk agreed that the amount of expense associated with Plaintiff’s medical bill would not assist the Jury in arriving at a pain and suffering award.  Judge Africk held that “such evidence does not tend to prove a matter at issue in the case, or an inference of any consequential fact.”  As such, the medical bills were excluded.

It is important to note that the jurisprudence cited above is applicable only when a party attempts to introduce medical bills to prove/disprove a seaman’s pain and suffering.  Medical bill can be relevant and admissible if they are the subject of a dispute in the case.  If, for example, in a maintenance and cure action, the employer/vessel owner has denied Plaintiff cure, then the medical bills will be relevant and admissible.  Medical bills may also be relevant in the event that an employer/vessel owner argues that the cost of a Plaintiff’s medical treatment is not fair and reasonable pursuant to the cure doctrine.