The collateral source rule refers to a legal principle that allows plaintiffs to receive compensation from a defendant without reducing the amount of damages they can receive from other sources. The rule applies to cases involving personal injury, medical malpractice, and wrongful death.
Generally, when a person is injured due to the negligence of another party, they may seek compensation for various damages such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In some cases, the injured person may have insurance that covers some or all of these damages. The collateral source rule allows the injured party to receive compensation from the defendant without reducing the compensation they can receive from their insurance provider.
The collateral source rule has been a subject of debate in the legal community for many years. Some argue that the rule allows injured parties to receive a windfall by double-dipping into both the defendant's pocket and their insurance provider's pocket. Others argue that the rule is necessary to ensure that injured parties receive full compensation for their damages.
One of the main arguments in favor of the collateral source rule is that it prevents defendants from benefitting from the injured party's insurance coverage. For example, if a plaintiff has health insurance that covers their medical expenses, the defendant should not be able to reduce their damages by the amount that the insurance company paid. This would essentially allow the defendant to benefit from the plaintiff's insurance coverage, which is not fair.
Another argument for the collateral source rule is that it encourages individuals to purchase insurance coverage. If plaintiffs knew that their damages would be reduced by the amount of their insurance coverage, they may be less likely to purchase insurance in the first place. This could lead to a situation where injured parties are unable to fully recover their damages, even if they were not at fault for the accident.
Opponents of the collateral source rule argue that it leads to excessive damages awards and encourages plaintiffs to engage in "double-dipping". For example, if a plaintiff receives $100,000 in damages from the defendant and also receives $50,000 from their insurance company, they would effectively be receiving $150,000 for their damages. This can lead to excessive damages awards that do not accurately reflect the plaintiff's actual damages.
In addition, opponents of the collateral source rule argue that it can lead to inconsistent damages awards. For example, if two plaintiffs are injured in the same accident and one has insurance coverage while the other does not, the plaintiff with insurance coverage may receive a higher damages award even if their actual damages were the same as the plaintiff without insurance coverage.
Despite these criticisms, most states in the United States have adopted some form of the collateral source rule. However, the specifics of the rule can vary from state to state. Some states have limited the rule to certain types of damages, such as medical expenses. Others have limited the rule to cases where the plaintiff has already paid for their damages out of pocket.
In addition, some states have adopted a modified version of the collateral source rule. Under this version, the defendant can introduce evidence of the plaintiff's insurance coverage, but the damages award is not reduced by the amount that the insurance company paid. Instead, the damages award is reduced by the amount that the plaintiff paid for their insurance coverage.
The collateral source rule is an important legal principle that ensures that injured parties receive full compensation for their damages. While there are valid criticisms of the rule, most states have adopted some form of the rule in order to ensure that plaintiffs are not unfairly penalized for having insurance coverage. As with any legal principle, the collateral source rule will continue to be the subject of debate and discussion in the legal community.