If you have ever been involved in an accident, you know it can be challenging to deal with multiple parties. From the other vehicle’s driver to numerous insurance companies, knowing who to contact can often seem impossible. This becomes even more difficult when navigating the workers’ compensation system.
Marcus Slaughter, who worked for Garda, and Ernest Howard, who worked for DABM, collided on a road in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana. Slaughter collided with Howard, suffered injuries, and received medical treatment. DABM’s workers’ compensation insurer paid for Howard’s medical expenses and workers’ compensation benefits while he could not work.
Howard then filed a lawsuit against Slaughter, Garda, and Garda’s auto insurer. Although the trial court awarded Howard lost wages and general damages, the judgment stated that it did not include the medical expenses of over $33,000. The trial court reasoned that DABM’s insurer had already paid these medical expenses, so Howard was not entitled to additional recovery. Howard appealed, arguing the court should have awarded him the medical costs.
On appeal, the appellate reviewed the trial court’s holding de novo because the issues involved questions of law, including interpreting statutes and the collateral source rule. This means the appellate court did not have to defer to the trial court’s findings. Under the collateral source rule, someone who commits a tort (here, Slaughter) cannot benefit, and the injured party’s recovery (here, Howard’s) cannot be reduced because of compensation from an independent source.
In deciding whether the collateral source rule applies, the court considers if applying the rule with help deter future torts and whether double recovery is possible. The appellate court explained that under Louisiana law, usually, if one person pays a debt (here, Howard’s medical expenses), another party is relieved of its obligation to pay it. See La. C.C. art. 1794. However, La. R.S. 23:1101A states that an injured employee who receives workers’ compensation benefits can still recover against a third party who would otherwise be liable to pay for damages the injured suffered. Therefore, the appellate court held the trial court erred in holding that Howard could not recover medical expenses.
The appeals court explained the applicable workers’ compensation law superseded the general rule that DABM’s insurer had previously paid Howard’s medical expenses, precluding the defendants from their obligation to Howard. Furthermore, applying the collateral source rule here would help deter people from committing torts and ensure the victim (here, Howard) received any additional benefit instead of benefitting the defendants responsible for the incident.
If you have been involved in an accident, you must consult with an excellent attorney to help you recover compensation to which you are entitled, which could come from various sources.
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