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Court Addresses Rebuttable Presumption and Finds in Favor of Tennessee Accident Victim

A state appellate court recently issued an opinion stemming from a Tennessee truck accident. A Johnson City (City) employee driving a tractor-trailer lost traction and struck the victim’s car. At the emergency room, the victim complained of right shoulder pain. Before the incident, the victim underwent two prior right shoulder surgeries, and her treating doctor recommended a third surgery following the incident. The woman filed a lawsuit against the City seeking compensatory damages for her medical bills and recovery. In support of her claim, she provided itemized medical and hospital bills.

Under Tennessee Code 24-5-113(b), this evidence creates a rebuttable presumption of the reasonableness of the bills. Here, the City conceded to its liability but objected to the reasonableness of the undiscounted medical bills the plaintiff presented. The City sought to rebut the presumption through the testimony of two witnesses. One witness was a doctor who offered his opinion on the hospital’s billing practices. The other witness was presented as an expert in medical billing practices. The billing expert was the owner and co-founder of a medical billing software system. The trial court found that the doctor’s testimony violated the collateral source rule and the billing expert’s methodology was not proven or tested.

On appeal, the court reviewed whether the trial court appropriately excluded the City’s evidence to rebut the reasonableness of the victim’s bills. Under the collateral source rule, a plaintiff can still recover the entire reasonable value of their damages, even if a third party paid some of the total damages. The doctor’s testimony sought to establish that the amount billed is not the actual amount paid because of private dealings between the hospital and the parties. The court concluded that the collateral source rule directly prohibits this type of testimony.

Further, the Tennessee Supreme Court has found that an expert’s testimony must be relevant and satisfy the state’s Rules of Evidence regarding reliability. Courts will look to various factors to determine whether a methodology is reliable, such as whether the evidence has been subjected to peer review. Here, the billing expert explained that he computes a “reasonable rate” by using the hospital’s data and state financial data to formulate an appropriate amount. While the expert possessed exemplary qualifications, his methodology has not been tested or subjected to peer review. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision finding in favor of the plaintiff.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a Tennessee Accident?

If you or someone you love has suffered serious injuries or died in a Tennessee truck accident, the Hartsoe Law Firm can help you determine your rights and remedies. Attorney Hartsoe maintains an active practice advocating on behalf of and representing Tennessee injury victims and their families. He handles claims stemming from motor vehicle accidents, premises liability, products liability, medical malpractice, and other catastrophic injuries. He utilizes his extensive experience, knowledge, and resources to ensure that his clients recover the damages the law entitles them. Contact the Hartsoe Law Firm at 865-524-5657 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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