The Supreme Court of Texas recently issued an opinion finding that a trial court abused its discretion in denying a defendant’s discovery request. The case arose after the plaintiff suffered injuries in a Texas car accident with a tractor-trailer driven by the defendant’s employee. After the accident, the parties took photos, exchanged identifying information, and drove away without reporting injuries. A few days after the accident, the plaintiff sought medical treatment and underwent several surgeries on his spine and shoulder. His medical providers charged him over one million dollars for the surgeries and treatment. The plaintiff did not pay for the care. His attorneys notified the healthcare providers that they would protect the healthcare providers’ interest if they settled the underlying personal injury lawsuit. However, they specified the settlement would only include reasonable and necessary medical charges.
During the trial, the defendants served subpoenas on the plaintiff’s healthcare providers. Specifically, they wanted information related to the providers’ billing practices and rates. Three of the providers filed motions to quash the subpoenas, and the trial court granted the motions. The defendant narrowed the requests, but the healthcare providers responded that the narrowed requests contained the same defects.
Under the rules of evidence, evidence is “relevant” if it has “any tendency” to make a fact more or less probable. For pre-trial discovery, evidence that may not be admissible at trial may still be permitted, so long as it’s “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” In the context of personal injury lawsuits, medical records and bills reasonably related to a party’s injuries or damages are typically relevant.
In this case, the court cited previous case law in which it found that negotiated rates a hospital charge was “at least relevant” to whether the charges were reasonable. The healthcare providers argue that the plaintiff’s ability to recover is not dependent on whether the medical charges were reasonable. However, the court disagreed, finding that a claimant’s recovery is limited to the amount they “actually paid or incurred.” In other words, the legal amount a provider has the right to be paid. As such, even if the plaintiff were legally responsible for paying the healthcare providers an unreasonable amount, the defendant’s liability would still be limited to a reasonable amount. Therefore, the Court found that the defendant’s discovery request was reasonable, and the trial court erred in arbitrarily denying their request for the relevant information.
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