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Willink v. Boyne USA, Inc.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

October 23, 2013

JOHN WILLINK, Plaintiff,
v.
BOYNE USA, INC., Defendant.

ORDER

DANA L. CHRISTENSEN, Chief District Judge.

Defendant Boyne filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence of the amount billed for Plaintiff Willink's past medical expenses. (Doc. 23.) Mr. Willink has brought a negligence claim against Boyne for injuries he sustained at Big Sky Resort in Montana on March 28, 2010. (Doc. 3.) It is undisputed that the amount billed for Mr. Willink's medical expenses is lower than the amount Medicare actually paid, which his medical providers accepted as payment in full[1]. In the motion now before the Court, Boyne contends that: (1) since the most Mr. Willink can recover is the reduced amount paid by Medicare and accepted by his medical providers as payment in full, (2) evidence of and arguments or references to the amount billed is irrelevant and must be excluded pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 402; and (3) even if such evidence was relevant, it should be excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 403, because its probative value would be substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, and misleading the jury. (Doc. 24 at 1-2). Mr. Willink opposes the motion. (Doc. 25.)

MOTION IN LIMINE STANDARD

Courts have "wide discretion" in considering and ruling on motions in limine. Trichtler v. Co. of Lake, 358 F.3d 1150, 1155 (9th Cir. 2004). But a Court will grant a motion in limine and exclude evidence only if the evidence is "inadmissible on all potential grounds." BNSF Ry. v. Quad City Testing Laboratory, Inc., 2010 WL 4337827 at *1 (D. Mont. 2010) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "Unless evidence meets this high standard, evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context." Id. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). "This is because although rulings on motions in limine may save time, costs, effort and preparation, a court is almost always better situated during the actual trial to assess the value and utility of evidence." Id.

LIMITATION ON MR. WILLINK'S RECOVERY

The threshold issue here is whether Mr. Willink's recovery is limited to the reduced amount that Medicare actually paid for his past medical expenses, as opposed to the amount that was originally billed.

The Court's jurisdiction over this matter is based on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. "The source of substantive rights enforced by a federal court under diversity jurisdiction... is the law of the States." Guar. Trust Co. of N.Y. v. York, 326 U.S. 99, 112 (1945). Under Montana law, compensatory damages are awarded to "redress the concrete loss that a plaintiff has suffered by reason of a defendant's wrongful conduct." Seltzer v. Morton, 154 P.3d 561, 600 (Mont. 2007). "The law of torts works to ensure that an award of damages restores an injured party as near as possible to the party's pre-tort position - no better, no worse." Lampi v. Speed, 261 P.3d 1000, 1004 (Mont. 2011). Accordingly, under Montana law, proper damages in a non-contract action "is the amount which will compensate for all the detriment proximately caused thereby whether it could have been anticipated or not." MCA § 27-1-317.

Plaintiff cites several cases supporting its claim that Mr. Willink's recovery will be limited to the amount paid, including Conway v. Benefits Health System, 297 P.3d 1200 (Mont. 2013), Newbury v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Insurance Co., 184 P.3d 1021 (Mont. 2008), and Chapman v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., 7 F.Supp.2d 1123 (D. Mont. 1998). Of these, Chapman is the most similar to the instant case. In Chapman, plaintiff sought to admit evidence of medical bills in excess of what Medicaid actually paid to the plaintiff's medical providers. In addressing limitation of damages, this Court stated:

"[If the] jury award includes not only the actual amount paid under medicaid but also the disallowed medical expenses, the award would have to be reduced. Nonetheless, the issue at this juncture is whether the Court should permit evidence on damages (disallowed medical expenses) that Chapman is not entitled to recover."

7 F.Supp.2d 1123 , 1125 (D. Mont. 1998). Thus, this Court recognized that plaintiffs are not entitled to recover damages in excess of the amount actually paid. Newbury and Chapman, while not directly on point, both support the proposition that Mr. Willink's recovery is limited to the amount Medicare actually paid to cover past medical expenses, since any additional damages based on the amount billed would constitute an impermissible windfall.

Mr. Willink does not contest Boyne's assertion that his recovery is limited to the amount actually paid. On the contrary, the thrust of Mr. Willink's argument is that if the jury award damages in excess of the permissible amount, the judge may reduce the award at a subsequent hearing pursuant to MCA § 27-1-308.

Montana law and this Court's precedent supports Boyne's claim, which Mr. Willink does not contest, that Mr. Willink's recovery is limited to the amount actually paid by Medicare.

RELEVANCE

Federal Rule of Evidence 402 states that irrelevant evidence is inadmissible. "Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable that it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is ...


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