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Robinson v. Bates, 112 Ohio St.3d 17

Facts:

Landlord hired an outside contractor to do repair work on a deteriorating retaining wall on the side of Tenant’s driveway. The contractor removed the retaining wall, but left a concrete footer exposed. Although aware of the work by the contractor, Tenant stepped onto the uneven slab of the footer and injured her foot. Tenant sued Landlord for her personal injuries.

Tenant provided evidence of her medical bills and also stipulated that her insurance company had negotiated the bill to a lower price to be considered payment in full. The trial court refused to admit the original bill into evidence and limited proof of damages to the amount that was actually paid for the medical treatment. Additionally, the trial court ruled that the footer was an open and obvious condition and directed verdict for Landlord.

The appellate court reversed, holding that the case should have gone to a jury, because reasonable minds could have concluded that Landlord violated her duty under R.C. 5321.04(A)(2) to repair the premises and therefore committed negligence per se. Additionally, the appellate court ruled that the trial court erred in only allowing the accepted payment and remanded for Tenant to admit the original bill. Discretionary appeal was accepted to determine the scope of the admissible evidence.

Issues Presented:

  1. Whether the evidence of the amount accepted as full payment of a medical bill is barred by the collateral-source rule.
  2. The “open and obvious” doctrine does not dissolve the statutory duty to repair. Most statutes are construed to require that the actor take reasonable diligence and care to comply, and if after such diligence and care the actor is unable to comply, the violation will be excused. When a factual dispute exists as to whether the statutory duty was breached, the question should be answered by the jury.

Rule:

  1. The collateral-source rule does not apply to bar evidence of the amount accepted by a medical care provider from an insurer as full payment for medical or hospital treatment. Both the amount originally billed by the provider and the amount paid by the insurer are admissible to prove the reasonable value of the medical treatment.
  2. The “open and obvious” doctrine does not dissolve the statutory duty to repair. Most statutes are construed to require that the actor take reasonable diligence and care to comply, and if after such diligence and care the actor is unable to comply, the violation will be excused. When a factual dispute exists as to whether the statutory duty was breached, the question should be answered by the jury.

Analysis:

  1. First, the Court affirmed the appellate holding that the original medical bill must be allowed into evidence. An injured party is entitled to recover necessary and reasonable expenses arising from the injury. Wagner v. McDaniels, 9 Ohio St.3d 184 (1984). “Proof of the amount paid or the amount of the bill rendered . . . constitutes prima facie evidence of the necessity and reasonableness of the charges for medical and hospital services.” Id. Additionally this rule is supported by R.C. § 2317.421, which states the same, providing that medical bills are prima facie evidence of the reasonable value of medical services.

    Next, the Court determined that evidence of the partial payment was admissible under the collateral-source rule. Under the collateral-source rule, a plaintiff’s receipt of benefits from sources other than the wrongdoer are deemed irrelevant and immaterial on the issue of damages, so the jury does not advantage the tortfeasor and award less damages to the plaintiff. However, the collateral-source rule does not apply to write-offs (difference between bill and amount accepted) of expenses that are never paid and excludes only evidence of benefits paid. The court reasons that because no one pays write-offs, they cannot possibly be called a payment and do not fall into the collateral-source rule. Therefore, the partial payment accepted as full payment must also be admitted to the jury and as they are both relevant to the reasonable value of medical expenses.

  2. Here, the Court ruled that the record shows that even though Landlord had a statutory duty to repair, the state of the repairs was a question for the jury. The jury could have concluded either that the repairs were handled with reasonable diligence, thus excusing the violation or that the statutory duty was breached, establishing negligence per se. Since this is a question for the trier of fact, the appellate court was correct in overruling the directed verdict and remanding for trial.

About the Authors: Sawan & Sawan is a multi-generational, family owned law firm practicing law in the areas of car accidents, truck accidents, insurance claims, personal injury, litigation and more. Our firm practices law in Ohio (Toledo, Columbus), Georgia, Michigan and Florida

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