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Justices disagree about evidence issue

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Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard didn't agree with his colleagues' decision that a defendant couldn't introduce evidence to dispute the judgment of an injured plaintiff's medical providers in choosing certain treatment.

In his concurring-in-result opinion, the chief justice believed the holding that a responding party is barred from challenging whether bills submitted in accordance with Evidence Rule 413 actually reflect reasonable and necessary treatment will create issues when ruling whether the expenses were reasonable and necessary.

"... the breadth of today's ruling will lead future judges and juries to work injustices at the very moment when judgment is most needed to hold to account providers at the edge of reasonably necessary treatment, or beyond it," he wrote to explain why he declined to join in the "Sibbing rule" created by the other justices.

In Eric P. Sibbing v. Amanda N. Cave, No. 49S02-0906-CV-275, Eric Sibbing argued that the trial court erred in allowing Amanda Cave to testify about what she was told by her treating physician and her own beliefs on the cause of her pain; and by excluding medical-necessity evidence from Sibbing's expert witness. Sibbing rear ended Cave's car, injuring her. She sought treatment first from Dr. Muhammad Saquib at a medical clinic and later received treatment from Dr. Ronald Sheppard at a chiropractic practice.

Cave claimed portions of testimony by Sibbing's expert witness were properly excluded because they were contrary to Whitaker v. Kruse, 495 N.E.2d 223 (Ind. Ct. App. 1986). Sibbing contended if Whitaker is applicable, then a defendant wouldn't ever be able to refute a plaintiff's claim that medical bills were reasonable and necessary.

The justices held that the phrase "reasonable and necessary," as a qualification for damages recoverable by an injured party, means that the amount of medical expense claimed must be reasonable, and that the nature and extent of the treatment claimed must be necessary in the sense that it proximately resulted from the wrongful conduct of another. They also held the rule in Whitaker is a correct application of the "scope of liability" component of proximate cause.

Sibbing didn't assert that Cave failed to show, but for the collision, the challenged treatment would not have occurred. Instead, Sibbing challenged the medical judgment of Cave's doctors in choosing to administer the questioned treatment, which he can't do, the majority of justices concluded.

The justices unanimously agreed that Cave's testimony about what Saquib told her about her injuries should not have been admitted under Indiana Evidence Rule 803(4). They disagreed with and disapproved of the holding in Coffey v. Coffey, 649 N.E.2d 1074 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995), in which the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded a letter from a doctor regarding a husband's diagnosis, treatment, and inability to work fell within Rule 803(4), and allowed it to be admitted.

"While Rule 803(4) does not expressly identify which declarants' medical statements are intended to be treated as a hearsay rule exception, we hold that the Rule is intended and should apply only to statements made by persons who are seeking medical diagnosis or treatment," wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

As such, Cave's testimony should have been excluded because it didn't qualify as an exception to the hearsay rule. But the admission was cumulative, didn't affect Sibbing's substantial rights, and doesn't require reversal because of the substantial medical confirmation provided through medical records and other testimony admitted without objection.

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