Under the collateral source rule, a tortfeasor has no right to any reduction of damages because of payments or compensation received by the injured party from an independent source.133 Therefore, the rule prohibits the admission of evidence of an injured party receiving compensation or payment for tort-related injuries from a source other than the tortfeasor.133.1 The rule is predicated on the theory that a tortfeasor has no interest in, and therefore no right to benefit from, monies received by the injured person from sources unconnected to the defendant.134 A second rationale for the rule is a concern for the prejudice that may result to an injured party in the minds of the jury from knowledge of a double recovery.135
Under the collateral source rule, a plaintiff may recover damages from a tortfeasor for the reasonable value of medical services, even if the plaintiff has received complete recompense for those services from a source other than the tortfeasor. The collateral source rule requires the injured party to be made whole exclusively by the tortfeasor and not by a combination of compensation from the tortfeasor and collateral sources. The benefit conferred on the injured person from the collateral source is not credited against the tortfeasor’s liability, even if the plaintiff has received partial or even complete value. Thus, under the collateral source rule, a plaintiff could recover from a tortfeasor for the reasonable value of medical services provided even if those services were provided gratuitously. The general rule is that the plaintiff’s damages may not be reduced because of payments for treatment paid for by medical insurance to which the tortfeasor did not contribute 135.1
By statute, in any medical negligence action for damages because of property damage or bodily injury, including death resulting therefrom, there may be introduced, and if introduced, the trier of fact shall consider evidence of: (1) Any and all facts available as to any public collateral source of compensation or benefits payable to the person seeking such damages (including all sums which will probably be paid payable to such person in the future) on account of such property damage or bodily injury; and (2) any and all changes, including prospective changes, in the marital, financial or other status of any persons seeking or benefiting from such damages known to the parties at the time of trial. However, the statute is not applicable to life insurance or private collateral sources of compensation or benefits.135.2 Military pension benefits are not a “public collateral source” within the meaning of this statute.135.3
The doctrine does permit a tortfeasor to obtain the advantage of payments made by the tortfeasor either directly or through a fund created by the tortfeasor. In such instance the payment does not come from a collateral source but from the defendant. Thus, for example, if a defendant had made payments for an insurance policy for a plaintiff, the defendant is entitled to credit for those payments to the extent the insurance policy paid for medical expenses.136
133. Miller v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 993 A.2d 1049, 1053 (Del. 2010); Spencer v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, 930 A.2d 881, 887 (Del. 2007); Sears, Roebuck and Co. v. Midcap, 893 A.2d 542, 553 (Del. 2006); Mitchell v. Haldar, 883 A.2d 32, 37-38 (Del. 2005); Onusko v. Kerr, 880 A.2d 1022, 1024 (Del. 2005); Guy J. Johnson Transp. Co. v. Dunkle, 541 A.2d 551, 553 (Del. 1988); Melson v. Allman, 244 A.2d 85, 88 (Del. 1968); Yarrington v. Thornburg, 205 A.2d 1, 3 (Del. 1964); Campbell v. Brandenburger, 162 A. 354, 357 (Del. Super. 1932).
133.1. Miller v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 993 A.2d 1049, 1053 (Del. 2010); James v. Glazer, 570 A.2d 1150, 1155 (Del.1990).
134. Miller v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 993 A.2d 1049, 1053 (Del. 2010); Spencer v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, 930 A.2d 881, 887 (Del. 2007); Mitchell v. Haldar, 883 A.2d 32, 37-38 (Del. 2005); James v. Glazer, 570 A.2d 1150, 1155 (Del. 1990); Melson v. Allman, 244 A.2d 85, 88 (Del. 1968).
135. Miller v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 993 A.2d 1049, 1053 (Del. 2010); James v. Glazer, 570 A.2d 1150, 1155 (Del. 1990).
135.1. Mitchell v. Haldar, 883 A.2d 32, 37-38 (Del. 2005).
135.2. 18 Del. C. § 6862.
135.3. Davis v. St. Francis Hospital, C.A. No. 00C-06-045-JRJ, Jurden, J. (Del. Super. Mar. 8, 2002).
136. Yarrington v. Thornburg, 205 A.2d 1, 2-3 (Del. 1964).
© 2010 David L. Finger