ANGELA STEVENS, ET AL.
STATE OF TENNESSEE
Session February 6, 2018
from the Tennessee Claims Commission Nos. T20140324,
T20140325 Robert N. Hibbett, Commissioner
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.
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.
Dunigan, Goodlettsville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Angela
Richard H. Dinkins, J., delivered the opinion of the court,
in which W. Neal McBrayer and Kenny W. Armstrong, JJ. joined.
RICHARD H. DINKINS, JUDGE
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,
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). The Commission awarded Mother $33,
497.78 and Daughter $7, 838.00. 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."
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 ...