A Court Should Allow Plaintiff to Testify About Her Inability to Afford Medical Care

In the case of Vanoosting vs. Sellars, 2012 IL App (5th) 110365, the Plaintiff in the case was involved in a relatively straight forward rear-end collision case. She had neck and back pain as a result of the accident. She filed suit seeking damages for past and future pain and suffering, disability, loss of normal life, and loss of earning capacity. The Defendant admitted they were negligent in running into her. The court held a trial on the issue of damages. The trial court started the hearing and declared a mistrial because of statements made by a juror in chambers. It then conducted a second jury trial. The jury heard opening statements and Plaintiff conducted the case in chief. The Plaintiff sought to introduce evidence that she lacked enough money to treat as much as she otherwise would. She would have testified, and made an offer of proof, that she made two-hundred dollars per week. She testified at the motion limine that she sought little or no medical treatment in the last three years because she had no health insurance. The trial court barred the testimony and let the issue go to the jury. The defense lawyer argued that she had not had any medical treatment for three years; therefore she must not have significant problems now. The jury returned a verdict for $30, 286.46 of which $18, 286.46 was for medical expenses, past and future, and $12,000.00 was for pain and suffering, past and future. The jury returned zero for loss of a normal life.

The Plaintiff appealed the decision arguing the Plaintiff should have been able to produce evidence that the reason she did not go to the doctor was because of her lack of health insurance. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court. The Appellate Court said that the evidence is clearly relevant under Illinois Rule of Evidence 401.

The next questions the court addressed was whether or not it was unduly prejudicial for the jury to hear that the Plaintiff did not have health insurance. The court said that the trial court should have allowed Plaintiff to introduce the evidence. It said this is especially true in-light of the defense counsel strategy of repeatedly high-lighting the fact that the Plaintiff had no treatment for her injuries in the three years prior to the trial.

This is a common sense approach. Too often in jury trials in Illinois the trial court will declare a mistrial if there is any mention whatsoever of the word “insurance.” In today’s society where we are required to have car insurance and now, with the Affordable Care Act, which will require people to have health insurance, it makes no sense to continue the legal fiction that no juror should be allowed to hear the word “insurance” in a trial court case.