Under State Law, Plaintiff Could Provide Proof Of Medical Expenses Under FRE 302

Fifth Circuit Court, New Orleans

Foradori v. Harris, 523 F.3d 477 (5th Cir. 2008) highlights application of FRE 302 concerning application of state law in civil diversity action in federal court

In a civil diversity suit charging negligent failure to supervise, control, and train employees following a confrontation which resulted in patron’s quadriplegia, under FRE 302, state law permitted the plaintiff to testify and identify past medical expenses subject to cross-examination and other evidence notwithstanding the hearsay rule under FRE 801 and the authentication rule under FRE 901.

During an unfortunate confrontation at a fast food restaurant, plaintiff Foradori, who was fifteen years old, was challenged to a fight, knocked unconscious and was seriously injured by an off-duty fast food employee. His state court negligence action was removed to federal court. One issue of proof at trial concerned his medical bills. The plaintiff testified that his medical bills totaled $1,556,840. He also identified an exhibit as representing his medical bills. The trial court overruled the defense hearsay and authentication objections. In applying state law, the trial court allowed the plaintiff’s testimony about the medical bills subject to defense cross-examination. See Miss. Code Ann. § 41-9-119 (“Proof that medical, hospital, and doctor bills were paid or incurred because of any illness, disease, or injury shall be prima facie evidence that such bills so paid or incurred were necessary and reasonable.”). After the jury awarded about $20 million (which included $1,581,884.41 for past reasonable and necessary medical expenses), on appeal the fast food company argued the medical bills were admitted in violation of the hearsay and authentication rules.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed the admission of the medical evidence under FRE 302. As the circuit explained, Mississippi courts construed Miss. Code Ann. § 41-9-119 “as superseding the standard hearsay and authenticity bars or conditions to admissibility, making medical bills vouched for by victims’ in-court testimony not only admissible but, in combination with that testimony, prima facie evidence and a presumption of proof of that part of a victim’s damages case.” Foradori, 523 F.3d at 518. The plaintiff’s testimony provided prima facie evidence of the medical expenses which created a presumption that the bills were necessary and reasonable, under state law. State law supplied the presumption on any fact which was an element of the claim. The defense had an opportunity to cross-examine and rebut the presumption.

As Foradori points out, FRE 302 provides: ““In civil actions and proceedings, the effect of a presumption respecting a fact which is an element of a claim or defense as to which state law supplies the rule of decision is determined in accordance with state law.” This requirement reflects the doctrine developed around the Supreme Court’s determination in Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938).

Federal Rules of Evidence