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Brooks v. Caterpillar Global Mining America, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Owensboro Division

August 8, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on a motion by Plaintiffs, Beau Brooks and Tina Brooks, to preclude the entry of collateral source evidence [DN 122], to preclude reference to undocumented and unwitnessed risk assessments or hazard analyses allegedly performed on the subject roof bolting lines [DN 121], and to strike Dr. David Shraberg as a witness [DN 118]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a product-liability case against Defendant, Caterpillar Global Mining America, LLC (“CGM”), arising out of an accident that happened in May of 2013. Plaintiff, Beau Brooks, a Western Kentucky coal miner, sustained injuries to his left hand when his hand was crushed between a rib of coal and a Caterpillar RB220 Roof Bolter. Plaintiffs allege that the injury occurred because Brooks was holding onto the operator handle of the roof bolter that extended his hand beyond the roof and outside the protective operator compartment. Plaintiffs contend that the crush injuries would not have occurred if CGM's operator handle had not been located so close to the edge of the roof bolter's operator compartment that Brooks left hand was left unprotected. Brooks and his wife sued CGM.


         A. Collateral Source Evidence [DN 122]

         Plaintiffs intend to introduce at trial all medical expenses which have been incurred to date. A substantial portion of the medical expenses have been paid by Beau Brooks' workers' compensation insurance carrier. Plaintiffs seek to prohibit the introduction or reference to the workers' compensation case or the fact that workers' compensation insurance, health insurance, and any other third-party sources not related to the tortfeaser have paid wage and medical benefits relating to Beau Brooks' injuries. Plaintiffs also seek to exclude any evidence of any reduction or charged-off expenses paid by any collateral sources, including workers' compensation and private insurance. Plaintiffs also move to preclude the introduction of evidence regarding the Plaintiff's potential future Affordable Care Act benefits or the fact that his insurance company may pay benefits in the future.

         Defendant does not specifically address the collateral source rule; instead, it argues that the Kentucky Workers' Compensation Act precludes the Plaintiffs from introducing evidence at trial of medical bill totals that exceed the amount paid by the Plaintiff's Workers' Compensation carrier, American Zurich Insurance Company, from the date of the accident forward. Defendant argues that Plaintiffs should be precluded from introducing evidence of the gross amount of Beau Brooks' past medical bills to the extent this total exceeds the total amount paid to him pursuant to the Workers' Compensation Act fee schedule. Thus, Defendant seeks an order limiting the amount of the Beau Brooks' past medical bills presented at trial to the amount that has been paid by American Zurich.

         In support of its argument, Defendant cites KRS § 342.035(1) which provides: “Periodically, the commissioner shall promulgate administrative regulations to adopt a schedule of fees for the purpose of ensuring that all fees, charges, and reimbursements under KRS 342.020 and this section shall be fair, current, and reasonable and shall be limited to such charges as are fair, current, and reasonable for similar treatment of injured persons in the same community for like services, where treatment is paid for by general health insurers.” Defendant contends that in light of the statute, any medical bills in excess of what was paid on Plaintiff's behalf in accordance with the Workers' Compensation Act fee schedule are not “fair and reasonable” under Kentucky law. As a result, Defendant maintains that at trial the only amount that the jury should be presented regarding the Plaintiff's total past medical expenses is the amount of medical bills paid by the Plaintiff's Workers' Compensation provider. Defendant does not offer any case law in support of its argument.

         Kentucky's collateral source rule “precludes courts from reducing a plaintiff's medical damages based on insurance payments made for [his] care, so long as the associated premiums were paid by the plaintiff [himself] or a third party other than the tortfeasor.” Fulcher v. United States, 2014 WL 7375557, at *4 (W.D. Ky. Dec. 29, 2014) (citing O'Bryan v. Hedgespeth, 892 S.W.2d 571, 576 (Ky. 1995)). In Baptist Healthcare Systems, Inc. v. Miller, “the Kentucky Supreme Court stated that the collateral source rule ‘allows the plaintiff to (1) seek recovery for the reasonable value of medical services for an injury, and (2) seek recovery for the reasonable value of medical services without consideration of insurance payments made to the injured party.'” Dossett v. Wal-Mart Stores East, Ltd. Partnership, 2016 WL 183923, *1 (W.D. Ky. Jan. 14, 2016)(quoting Baptist Health Care Systems, Inc. v. Miller, 177 S.W.3d 676, 682 (Ky. 2005)) Kentucky courts articulate the following policy concerns served by the collateral source rule:

First, the wrongdoer should not receive a benefit by being relieved of payment for damages because the injured party had the foresight to obtain insurance. Second, as between the injured party and the tortfeasor, any so-called windfall by allowing a double recovery should accrue to the less culpable injured party rather than relieving the tortfeasor of full responsibility for his wrongdoing. Third, unless the tortfeasor is required to pay the full extent of the damages caused, the deterrent purposes of tort liability will be undermined.

Dossett, 2016 WL 183923, *2 (citing Baptist Health Care Systems, 177 S.W.3d at 683)(citing Schwartz v. Hasty, 175 S.W.3d 621, 626 (Ky. App. 2005))). Based on these policy concerns, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that “‘it is absurd to suggest that the tortfeasor should receive a benefit from a contractual arrangement between Medicare and the health care provider. Simply because Medicare contracted with [the plaintiff's] physician to provide care at a rate below usual fees does not relieve a tortfeasor from negligence or the duty to pay the reasonable value of [the plaintiff's] medical expenses.'” Dossett, 2016 WL 183923, *2 (citing Baptist Health Care Systems, 177 S.W.3d at 683-84). This language applies to private medical insurance or workers' compensation insurance. Id. While the Court understands the Defendant's argument, a similar argument has been previously rejected by the district court in Dossett. “[W]hen faced with the often abstruse task of determining reasonable medical damages, the Commonwealth's highest court has expressed a distinct preference in favor of conscientious consumers by requiring tortfeasors to satisfy the full amount of their damages.” Dossett, 2016 WL 183923, at *2.

         For these reasons, Plaintiffs' motion in limine with respect to this issue is GRANTED. Defendant's request to limit the amount of Beau Brooks' past medical bills presented at trial to the amount paid by the workers' compensation carrier is DENIED.

         B. Risk Assessments or Hazard Analyses [DN 121]

         The record reflects that the RB220 roof bolter was initially designed in 1990 by Simmons Rand Company. The Long-Airdox Company then acquired Simmons-Rand. The Long-Airdox Company added the operator handle to the design in 1998. Long-Airdox was acquired by DBT which was later acquired by Bucyrus International. Bucyrus was acquired by Caterpillar Inc. and Caterpillar then essentially ...

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