Under the common law, collateral source evidence was generally inadmissible for both determinations of liability and damages. Finding that this rule promoted double recovery in certain instances, the Florida legislature abrogated this rule in the 1980s and adopted the current set-off rule, which requires a trial court, with certain exceptions, to reduce a damages award by “the total of all amounts which have been paid for the benefit of the claimant, or which are otherwise available to the claimant, from all collateral sources.” Fla. Stat. § 768.76 (1). Although the collateral source rule was abrogated with respect to damages, Florida courts have found the impact of the rule limited with respect to the evidence admissible to a jury for making a determination of liability. However, the Florida Supreme Court articulated one major expectation to the common law collateral source rule in Fla. Physician’s Ins. Reciprocal v. Stanley, 452 So. 2d 514 (Fla. 1984). In Stanley, the court held that “evidence of free or low cost services from governmental or [charities] available to anyone with specific disabilities is admissible on the issue of future damages.” Given the uniqueness of this rule, Florida courts have after struggled with its application and, in many cases, limited it to the particular facts. For example, the Supreme Court of Florida was once again called upon to grapple with the scope of Stanley in Joerg v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co.
The facts underlying Joerg are quite unfortunate. The plaintiff in this case was a developmentally disabled adult who was struck by a car while riding his bicycle in November 2007. The plaintiff had lived with his parents for his entire life and had never been employed. Following this accident, the plaintiff brought a negligence suit against the driver of the other vehicle and his personal uninsured motorist insurer, State Farm Mutual. Prior to trial, the plaintiff filed a motion to limit introduction of evidence about collateral sources, including benefits under Medicare and Medicaid. The trial court ultimately ruled that the insurer could introduce evidence of “future medical bills for specific treatments that are available . . . to all citizens regardless of wealth or status” but that evidence of future Medicare and Medicaid payments could not be introduced. The insurer appealed, and the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court ruling, except finding that the future Medicare payments should not have been excluded under the collateral source rule. An appeal to the Florida Supreme Court followed.