Within the next few months, the Supreme Court is expected to render a decision on a case that could drastically change different aspects of personal injury law. It seems that no matter the outcome, there will be some immediate changes to realm of personal injury law.
The court will soon rule on the case of U.S. Airways, Inc. v McCutchen.The court first heard arguments for the case a few weeks ago. The decision could be considered landmark, as the ruling is expected to affect people who are hurt through no fault of their own, and attempt to seek compensation through the court system for their medical bills and injuries. Depending on how the court rules, individuals hurt in accidents whom receive compensation through lawsuits may be required to give their compensation back to their insurance companies. While it’s no secret that personal injury law is a complex field, the ruling in this case could make things significantly more complicated for a personal injury law firm.
The plaintiff in the case is James McCutchen, who was a mechanic for U.S. Airways. McCutchen was driving his car when he was hit by an out-of-control driver, and then by a truck that was driving behind him. McCutchen’s injuries required many emergency surgeries, many months of physical therapy, and a complete hip replacement, and he was ultimately left permanently disabled.
McCutchen’s health provider paid him about $67,000 dollars to help cover expenses. McCutchen then filed suit against the driver of the car that initially hit him, but only received $10,000. He also received $100,000 from his own insurance provider. After everything was said and done, he was left with less than $66,000.
This is where things get complicated, and this is where the court’s ruling will become relevant. After McCutchen received his money from the settlement, U.S. Airways then sued him for $66,866, which was the amount the insurance provider had paid to cover his medical bills. U.S. Airways cited a federal law called ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and claimed it was entitled to reimbursement for all medical costs paid. Essentially ERISA gave U.S. Airways the right to sue McCutchen, which they did. A Third Circuit court ruled in favor of U.S. Airways, and awarded all of McCutchen’s settlement to the airline. McCutchen then filed an appeal.
The ruling will go one of two ways. If the Supreme Court rules in McCutchen’s favor, there is a much greater incentive for accident victims to seek financial compensation for their injuries. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of U.S. Airways, health insurance companies will hold the right to take money away from people on their plan. A ruling for U.S. Airways could hurt personal injury lawyers, as victims will have less of a desire to seek out a suit.
One thing that the Court might consider is that U.S. Airways took no action to recover the money until after it was awarded to McCutchen. The company simply waited to see the outcome of the settlement before going after his money. Regardless, the Supreme Court’s ruling is expected within the next few months and it will be interesting to see how it rules.