Collateral Source Rule | How Does It Work?

Updated May 26, 2016

collateral source rule

Collateral sources are payments received by the plaintiff in a personal injury case for compensation or benefits from a party not involved in the case to compensate for the damages the plaintiff suffered in the accident or by medical malpractice. The person or company is liable to the injured victim for his/her injuries, regardless of whether the victim, an HMO, or any other insurer has paid for that medical care.

The collateral source rule is also an evidentiary rule that bars defendants from introducing evidence to show that a plaintiff has received collateral source benefits or payments.

Accordingly, in some cases, it essentially permits a plaintiff to recover damages twice for some or all of their economic losses. So in a personal injury case in Maryland, the jury is not told if health insurance or worker's compensation insurance paid all or a portion of plaintiff’s medical bills.

The collateral source rule is now an embedded part of the law not only in Maryland but nearly every state in the country. When trying a personal injury case to a jury, the fastest path to a mistrial is to breathe a word about insurance.

History of the Collateral Source Rule

This Maryland rule of evidence which dates back to 1899. The rule is grounded in the long-standing policy decision that should a windfall arise as a consequence of an outside payment, the party to benefit from that collateral source – that the injured party likely paid for through insurance premiums - is the person who has been injured, not the one whose wrongful acts caused the injury.

Justification for the Collateral Source Rule

A plaintiff's PIP, health insurance, or any other collateral source is not introduced to the jury because of the jury may reduce the damages award when it discovers that the plaintiff's damages have been paid by another source. Why is this a bad thing? Well, let's spin it the other way first: why should a wrongdoer get a benefit from a collateral source of damages caused by his wrongful act? If I'm lucky enough that my boss still paid me while I was out of work because I'm a good employee and have a track record of success at my company, why should the person who hurt me get the benefit of that goodwill? Similarly, why should the negligent party benefit because I was smart enough to take out health insurance or PIP insurance? If someone is going to get a "windfall", shouldn't it be the victim as opposed to the wrongdoer.

There is also a law and economics basis for the rule as well. If the negligent party does not bear the full cost of the lost, they are incentivized to take more risks with our safety. Why not roll the dice when you only have to play half of the loss? Said differently, the collateral source rule deters future negligence by placing the full value of the loss on the party that caused the accident.

There has been a slew of recent attacks on the collateral source rule over the past few years. The main impetus behind this attack is an ostensible financial crisis in the insurance industry. (Like Hyman Roth, the insurance companies have been dying of the same disease for 20 years now. Of course, they are still making billions upon billions of dollars.) This has lead many state legislatures and courts to carve out exceptions to the rule, including Maryland in malpractice cases. See below.

Exceptions to the Collateral Source Rule

Defense lawyers hate the collateral source rule and spend a lot of energy trying to run around it. Thirty-eight states recognize some exceptions to the collateral source rule. There are four exceptions that appear with some frequency (1) the Gladden exception, (2) the lien reduced exception, (3) malingering exception, and the (4) malpractice exception.

maryland law

The Gladden exception allows defendants to introduce insurance payments if they rebut plaintiff's claim of his financial condition. The lien reduction exception argues that if the amount that must be paid back is reduced or waived - let's say the hospital waives the medical bill - that fact should be admissible. The malingering exception allows for the admission of collateral sources to show the plaintiff is exaggerating his injuries because he is getting payments to sustain him while not working. The malpractice exception is where some states exclude malpractice cases from the reach of the collateral source rule. Maryland courts have recognized the Gladden exception and the malingering exceptions. But it is still an uphill battle for defendants to get around the collateral source rule with these exceptions because this argument can usually be made with evidence that is far less prejudicial.

What Insurance Companies Don't Want Victims to Know About This Rule

It is counter intuitive to most personal injury victims that the at-fault insurance company is still obligated to pay for lost wages when the employer continued to pay the victim or for medical bills that have been paid by health insurance or PIP insurance. So the insurance companies try to use this against you in your settlement negotiations. "Okay, I see your bills and lost wages have been paid, so that is no problem. How much do you think your injuries are worth?" This is the kind of garbage you see out of most insurance companies trying to settle cases with victims who do not have a sophisticated lawyer.

Does ObamaCare Impact the Collateral Source Rule?

Defense lawyers are scheming that ObamaCare makes healthcare coverage an obligation nullifies the logic of the collateral source rule. Don't be surprised to see the some Maryland legislature propose limiting medical expenses to the amount of health insurance coverage. There are lots of reasons why this logic fails -- for one, let's stop pretending everyone will be covered and that there is no cost having insurance. But victims' advocates need to be ready to vigorously fight this issue.

Hiring a Lawyer

If you have been injured in an accident in Maryland, call us at 800-553-8082 or click here for a free consultation.

More Collateral Source ResourcesMaryland Case Law
  • Plank v. Summers: P.G. County car accident case that is probably the most cited Maryland case supporting this rule. In this case, the Maryland high court allowed the victim to recover the value of medical and hospital services that were gratuitously given to the injured party by the Navy.
  • Narayen v. Bailey: After a verdict, a doctor filed a Motion for Remittitur requesting a reduction of damages because the plaintiff medical bills had been paid by Blue Cross Blue Shield. Discusses Maryland law exception in medical malpractice post-verdict proceedings by permitting evidence of such benefits. The big key: if there is a reduction, the subrogation rights of the collateral source are eliminated. Under this scenario, the collateral source is estopped from seeking reimbursement.
  • MVA v. Seidel: Nice statement of law for your brief: The collateral source rule permits an injured person to recover the full amount of his or her provable damages, "regardless of the amount of compensation which the person has received for his injuries from sources unrelated to the tortfeasor."

Contact Us For a Free Consultation

If you are hurt in a serious accident or are the victim of medical malpractice, contact our team of lawyers to discuss your case.
Call us now for help at (800) 553-8082

You can also get a FREE no obligation on-line consultation.

Client Reviews

  • They quite literally worked as hard as if not harder than the doctors to save our lives.
    ★★★★★
  • Ron helped me find a clear path that ended with my foot healing and a settlement that was much more than I hope for.
    ★★★★★
  • Hopefully I won't need it again but if I do, I have definitely found my lawyer for life and I would definitely recommend this office to anyone!
    ★★★★★
  • The last case I referred to them settled for $1.2 million.
    ★★★★★
  • I am so grateful that I was lucky to pick Miller & Zois.
    ★★★★★
  • The entire team from the intake Samantha to the lawyer himself (Ron Miller) has been really approachable.
    ★★★★★
  • The case settled and I got a lot more money than I expected. Ron even fought to reduce how much I owed in medical bills so I could get an even larger settlement.
    ★★★★★
  • Miller and Zois is the best firm in the state of Maryland, and without their support, understanding, and just being there when I needed encouragement, I truly do not know how I would have succeeded without them.
    ★★★★★

Contact Us

Free Consultation (800) 553-8082 Call 24/7