Can Recover Medical Expenses for a Car Accident Be Foreclosed ?
Stroback v. Camaioni, 449 Pa. Super. 395, 674 A.2d 257 (Pa. Super. 1996), held that a motorist injured in March 1990 seeking to recover medical expenses that were precluded from recovery by the General Assembly three months after the accident could not be foreclosed by doing so by that subsequent legislation.
The court explained as follows:
Under the version of Section 1722 in effect on March 15, 1990, the day that appellee's cause of action arose, appellee was entitled to recover all medical expenses, in excess of the required $ 10,000 in medical coverages, which she had, or would in the future, incur as a result of the accident, irrespective of whether those medical bills had been paid by a person, plan, or company other than appellee. See, e.g.: Palmosina v. Laidlaw Transit Company, Inc., 445 Pa. Super. 121, 664 A.2d 1038 (1995). ...
Thus, appellee was entitled, as of the day her cause of action arose, to seek recovery of all of her subsequently incurred medical bills which exceeded $ 10,000.
This was a substantive right which could not properly be revoked by subsequent legislative action. See:
Jenkins v. Hospital of the Medical College of Pennsylvania, 401 Pa. Super. 604, 616-17, 585 A.2d 1091, 1096-97 (1991), aff'd., 535 Pa. 252, 634 A.2d 1099 (1993);
Bell v. Koppers Co., Inc., 481 Pa. 454, at 458-59, 392 A.2d 1380 at 1382;
Byard F. Brogan, Inc. v. Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, 161 Pa. Cmwlth. 453, 462-63, 637 A.2d 689, 694 (1994). Cf. Lynn v. Prudential Property and Casualty Insurance Co., 422 Pa. Super. 479, 619 A.2d 779 (1993) (statute providing for peer review organization review was procedural rather than substantive and, thus, could be applied to medical bills payable pursuant to contracts entered into prior to effective date of statute).
However, as a result of the Act 6 amendments effective July 1, 1990, the right to recover such excess medical expenses was extinguished where those expenses were paid by any entity identified in the amended Section 1722.
We concur in the conclusion of the trial court that the amended statute could be applied only to bills arising from accidents occurring after July 1, 1990, and was inapplicable in the instant case where appellee had a substantive right as of March 15, 1990, to pursue a claim for excess medical expenses which could not later be extinguished by the enactment of the legislation known as Act 6.
It is well-settled that the Legislature may not extinguish a right of action which has already accrued to a claimant. Id. at 261.
This established view is consistent with federal decisional law which squarely holds that a legislature may not constitutionally eliminate in toto a remedy, whether judicially or legislatively created, which has already accrued.
Ettor v. Tacoma, 228 U.S. 148, 33 S. Ct. 428, 57 L. Ed. 773 (1913);
Forbes Pioneer Boat Line v. Board of Comm'rs, 258 U.S. 338, 42 S. Ct. 325, 66 L. Ed. 647 (1922) (Holmes, J.);
Lynch v. United States, 292 U.S. 571, 54 S. Ct. 840, 78 L. Ed. 1434 (1934) (Brandeis, J.);
W.B. Worthen Co. ex rel. Bd. of Comm'rs v. Kavanaugh, 295 U.S. 56, 55 S. Ct. 555, 79 L. Ed. 1298 (1935) (Cardozo, J.);
United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey, 431 U.S. 1, 26-7, 97 S. Ct. 1505, 1520, 52 L. Ed. 2d 92 (1977).
As Chief Justice Marshall wrote, "the very essence of civil liberty certainly consists in the right of every individual to claim the protection of the laws, whenever he receives an injury." Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 163, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803). Stroback, 674 A.2d at 261-62.
The chronology of events in all these cases can be summarized as follows:
(1) a legitimate cause of action ensued;
(2) before the cause of action ended, the General Assembly enacted legislation that either retroactively eliminated the cause of action altogether or affected the law in force at the time the action arose;
(3) the retroactive legislation was either invalidated as running afoul of Article 1, Section 11 or held not to apply to the commenced cause of action.
Importantly, the underlying theme in all of these cases is that there was something systemically and inherently wrong with a state legislature interfering with a cause of action that had commenced.
As those cases illustrate, a cause of action is a snapshot of the facts and law that exist at the time the controversy began until the time it finally ceases.
It must be viewed in a legal "bubble" and decided based on the law and the facts as they existed at the time the lawsuit commenced without interference by subsequent acts of the General Assembly.
Should the legislature interfere with accrued causes of action, then the legislature, not the judiciary, becomes the arbiter of private disputes.