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Stevens v. State

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

February 28, 2018


          Session February 6, 2018

         Appeal from the Tennessee Claims Commission Nos. T20140324, T20140325 Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner

         State of Tennessee appeals the Claims Commission's award of damages to a mother and daughter who were injured in an automobile accident with a state employee driving a state-owned vehicle. Discerning no error in the award of damages, we affirm the decision.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Tennessee Claims Commission Affirmed

          Herbert S. Slatery, III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; and Dawn Jordan, Senior Deputy Attorney General, for the appellant, State of Tennessee.

          Brian Dunigan, Goodlettsville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Angela Stevens.

          Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which W. Neal McBrayer and Kenny W. Armstrong, JJ. joined.



         On August 22, 2013, Angela Stevens ("Mother") and her daughter, Lanesia ("Daughter"), were injured when John Dawkins, a Tennessee Department of Transportation employee, driving a state-owned vehicle in the course of his employment, turned in front of the vehicle in which they were riding, causing a collision and resulting in personal injuries and property damage to them. Mother and Daughter filed a claim with the Claims Commission, and the case proceeded to a hearing. In the course of trial Mother and Daughter introduced, without objection, the undiscounted bills for their medical treatment, totaling $13, 497.78 for Mother and $2, 838.00 for Daughter. The State introduced evidence that two of Mother's bills had been paid at discounted rates, resulting in a reduction of $3, 973.77; the State took the position that the collateral source rule, [1] which prevents a defendant from using the fact that a medical expense has been forgiven or reduced to reduce the defendant's financial liability, was abrogated by Tennessee Code Annotated section 9-8-307(d) (2017).[2] The Commission awarded Mother $33, 497.78[3] and Daughter $7, 838.00.[4] The State appeals, contending that the collateral source rule "does not prevent using the amount of medical expenses actually paid, instead of the amount billed, as the correct measure of damages for medical expenses incurred. This is because the amounts by which those billed amounts are adjusted or 'discounted' do not represent economic damages to the claimant."

         While the case was pending on appeal, our Supreme Court decided Dedmon v. Steelman, 535 S.W.3d 431 (Tenn. 2017), in which the court "decline[d] to alter existing law in Tennessee, " and held that "defendants are precluded from submitting evidence of discounted rates accepted by medical providers from the insurer to rebut plaintiffs' proof that the full, undiscounted charges are reasonable." The question before us is the extent to which Dedmon applies in actions arising under the Claims Commission Act. This question was before this court, indeed the same panel of judges, in Estate of Tolbert v. State of Tennessee, No. M2017-00862-COA-R3-CV, 2018 WL __(Tenn. Ct. App. February 28, 2018). We see no distinction between the relevant facts in Estate of Tolbert and those before us and, consequently, incorporate Section B of that opinion herein:

In the wake of the Dedmon decision, the State argues that the collateral source rule, which arises from common law, has been statutorily abrogated in personal injury actions under the Tennessee Claims Commission Act. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 9-8-307(d); Dedmon, 535 S.W.3d at 440. "Tennessee is a common law state, and so much of the common law as has not been abrogated or repealed by statute is in full force and effect." Powell v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 398 S.W.2d 727, 730 (Tenn. 1966). As noted by our supreme court, Tennessee has partially abrogated the collateral source rule in two limited circumstances: health care liability actions and workers' compensation cases. Dedmon, 535 S.W.3d at 445-46.
The General Assembly "unquestionably has the constitutional and legislative authority to change the common law" through its statutory enactments. Heirs of Ellis v. Estate of Ellis, 71 S.W.3d 705, 712 (Tenn. 2002). But the mere existence of a statute is not enough. Cellco P'ship v. Shelby Cnty., 172 S.W.3d 574, 591 n.7 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2005). We construe statutes in derogation of common law strictly. Davenport v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 818 S.W.2d 23, 28 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1991). "Statutes do not alter the common law any further than they expressly declare or necessarily require." Id. Without a clear indication in the statute, we will not presume that the General Assembly intended to change the common law. See Shore v. Maple Lane Farms, LLC, 411 S.W.3d 405, 423 (Tenn. 2013).
The State's abrogation argument relies exclusively on subsection (d) of the Claims Commission Act, which provides, in relevant part:
The state will be liable for actual damages only. No award shall be made unless the facts found by the commission would entitle the claimant to a judgment in an action at law if the state had been a private individual. The state will not be liable for punitive ...

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