ACOSTA v. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RAPID TRANSIT DISTRICT

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Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 1, California.

Lucile ACOSTA, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RAPID TRANSIT DISTRICT, Defendant and Appellant.

Civ. 33430.

Decided: August 12, 1969

Harry M. Hunt and Victor Rosenblatt, Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant. Charles A. Harrison, Los Angeles, for plaintiff and respondent.

Southern California Rapid Transit District (hereinafter sometimes referred to as the RTD) appeals from a judgment entered pursuant to a jury verdict awarding respondent Lucile Acosta $12,500 for injuries suffered in a fall which occurred when the RTD bus on which she was riding made a sudden stop.

Appellant contends that the trial court committed prejudicial error in refusing to permit evidence to show that Mrs. Acosta received compensation for medical expenses from a collateral source, and further contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the finding that defendant was negligent.

Mrs. Lucile Acosta, who was married and the mother of three children, had for a number of years been employed as a salesgirl in the children's shoe department at Bullock's downtown Los Angeles department store. On September 17, 1966, Mrs. Acosta left work at about 6:15 p. m., boarded the RTD bus at the corner of Eighth and Broadway, and placed her fare in the coin box. Before she had an opportunity to be seated, the bus stopped abruptly and she fell against the coin box; other passengers toppled over against her. Following the accident, Mrs. Acosta was taken to Central Receiving Hospital for emergency care. She was thence removed to California Hospital for treatment for a laceration of the left elbow, a severe contusion of the left hip, and recurrent headaches. She was hospitalized for an extensive period and for the first time returned to work in January 1967. She thereafter worked regulrly but not full time, and by the time of trial on February 29, 1968, she was working only five or six hours a day, five days a week, as a consequence of her injuries.

In chambers prior to trial appellant made a motion to exclude all medical bills incurred by Mrs. Acosts on the basis of her admissions in answer to interrogatories that such bills were substantially all paid by a collateral source, basing its motion on the rule that injured parties may not claim double recovery from public entities (City of Salinas v. Souza & McCue Construction Co., 66 Cal.2d 217, 57 Cal.Rptr. 337, 424 P.2d 921.) Respondent's counsel at that time declared that medical payments were in fact advanced by Blue Shield (California Physicians Service) under a lien for reimbursement from any recovery which Mrs. Acosta might obtain from the RTD. The trial court ruled that the medical bills were admissible in evidence.

During the trial, appellant stipulated to the admissibility of the medical bills except as to reasonableness and necessity. Dr. Alfred M. Palmer, plaintiff's expert medical witness, accordingly testified that the medical expenses incurred were both reasonable and necessary. Appellant's counsel thereafter in chambers requested that he be permitted, on cross-examination of the plaintiff, to explore the question of the amount and source of her reimbursement for medical expenses in order to show bias, motive, and malingering. The trial court indicated that it would be inclined to permit such cross-examination only upon a showing of ‘first, a reasonable question as to whether or not the treatments were excessive, and whether or not the amount that was paid by insurance companies or others exceeded the charges and the premiums paid, because I think those things have to be taken into consideration.’ Appellant's counsel then conceded that he in fact had no such proof to offer and following the conversation he immediately went back to the courtroom to cross-examine Mrs. Acosta. He at no time made an offer of proof that there was a potential double recovery by respondent, that the medical specials were excessive, or that the amount paid to her from a collateral source exceeded her actual expenses, and he made no effort to question Mrs. Acosta along the lines indicated.

‘When an injured party receives compensation for his losses from a collateral source ‘wholly independent of the tortfeasor,’ such payment generally does not preclude or reduce the damages to which it is entitled from the wrongdoer. [Citations.] (City of Salinas v. Souza & McCue Construction Co. supra, 66 Cal.2d 217, 226, 57 Cal.Rptr. 337, 424 P.2d 921, 925.)

The trial court within its sound discretion imposed upon appellant's right to cross-examine the plaintiff the reasonable limitation that with respect to her compensation from collateral sources it would require an offer of proof in order to be able to weigh in advance the potential prejudice against the relevancy of the evidence. (Evid.Code, § 352.) Such evidence is not always relevant. ‘It is no more logical to infer that a patient will needlessly subject himself to * * * [extensive medical treatment] because an insurance company pays ten percent of the cost than it is to reason that a person will drive carelessly because he carries liability insurance.’ (Garfield v. Russell, 251 Cal.app.2d 275, 278, 59 Cal.Rptr. 379, 381 fn. 2.) The trial court cor rectly observed that in order to appraise the situation in fulfillment of its obligations under section 352 of the Evidence Code, it would have to know a great deal more about the facts and the nature of the evidence which appellant proposed to attempt to elicit. (Garfield v. Russell, supra, 251 Cal.App.2d 275, 279, 59 Cal.Rptr. 379.)

Appellant further contends that the evidence fails to support the determination that RTD was negligent. The evidence reveals that the bus was travelling northbound along Broadway at the time of the accident, following at a distance of about 40 feet a late model Ford automobile. The bus and automobile were proceeding in the right hand travel lane close to a temporary sidewalk in a construction zone which extended into the space ordinarily occupied as a parking zone. The construction was interrupted at about mid-block by an outlet onto a crosswalk across Broadway. The bus driver at a distance of about 100 feet from the crosswalk observed that no pedestrians were in the crosswalk, but he saw some young boys running southbound on the temporary sidewalk, and he took his foot off the gas and placed it, without pressure, over the brake pedal. When the bus was about 70 feet from the crosswalk the bus driver saw the young boys dart out into the crosswalk directly in front of the Ford automobile, which was then almost halfway through the crosswalk. The driver of the automobile applied his brakes and made a sudden, fast stop and the bus driver, accordingly, stopped his bus precipitously and came to a stop about 5 feet from the rear of the Ford automobile. The bus driver had started his vehicle in motion before his passengers were all seated; he knew of the presence of the mid-block cross-walk and anticipated that pedestrians might attempt to use it; he acknowledged that he saw the youngsters in the vicinity and that he had concern for his passengers; yet he ultimately was forced to make a panic stop which threw his passengers into a heap with Mrs. Acosta on the bottom. ‘With rhythmic regularity it is necessary for us to say that where the findings are attacked for insufficiency of the evidence, our power begins and ends with a determination as to whether there is any substantial evidence to support them; * * *’ (Overton v. Vita-Food Corp., 94 Cal.App.2d 367, 370, 210 P.2d 757, 759.) Substantial evidence supports the judgment.

The judgment is affirmed.

FOURT, Associate Justice.

WOOD, P. J., and THOMPSON, J., concur.