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Maluff v. SAMS East, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

November 9, 2017

REINALDO DAMAS MALUFF, Plaintiff,
v.
SAM'S EAST, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          FEDERICO A. MORENO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon (1) Plaintiffs Motion to Strike Expert Witness Testimony of Nicole Bonaparte (D.E. 35), filed on September 22, 2017, and (2) Defendant's Motion to Limit the Testimony of Plaintiff s Treating Physician (Dr. Kingsley Chin) (D.E. 42), filed on September 25, 2017.

         THE COURT has considered the motions, the responses, the replies, the pertinent portions of the record, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, it is

         ADJUDGED as follows:

(i) Plaintiffs Motion to Strike Expert Witness Testimony of Nicole Bonaparte (D.E. 35) is GRANTED.
(ii) Defendant's Motion to Limit the Testimony of Plaintiffs Treating Physician (Dr. Kingsley Chin) (D.E. 42) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
(a) Defendant's Motion is GRANTED to the extent it seeks to prevent Dr. Chin from offering his opinion about the cause of Plaintiff s injuries.
(b) Defendant's Motion is DENIED to the extent it seeks to exclude Dr. Chin's testimony about the reasonableness of Plaintiff s medical bills.

         DISCUSSION

         This is a personal injury case arising from an incident at a Sam's Club store. Plaintiff Maluff alleges that an employee of Defendant Sam's East, Inc. negligently pushed a pallet jack loaded with merchandise into Maluff s back while he stood next to his shopping cart. The incident allegedly caused Maluff serious lower back injuries that ultimately required him to undergo lumbar spine fusion surgery.

         A. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Expert Witness Testimony of Nicole Bonaparte

         Sam's East retained Nicole Bonaparte to provide expert opinions and testimony on medical coding and billing. Bonaparte's testimony is purportedly important "to audit and evaluate the coding and billing practices of Plaintiffs treating healthcare providers and the customary and reasonable charges for the services rendered." (Def.'s Resp. 3.) Sam's contends that Bonaparte's "testimony as a billing and coding expert on reasonableness of medical reimbursement is critical to Sam's East's defense" and "[e]xcluding such testimony would eviscerate one of the only damages defenses available to Sam's East." (Id.)

         Maluff challenges the reliability and relevance of Bonaparte's testimony. His relevance argument alone provides sufficient grounds for precluding Bonaparte's testimony. Although Bonaparte may be qualified to opine on whether Plaintiffs treating physicians double-billed for a certain procedure or incorrectly charged for a certain injury, she cannot speak to Plaintiffs injuries or the appropriateness of certain treatments.

         Sam's East disputes that conclusion, noting that under Florida law, "[a] plaintiff bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of his medical expenses." Columbia Hosp. (Palm Beaches) Ltd. P'ship v. Hasson, 33 So.3d 148, 150 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010). It relies heavily on the Florida Court of Appeals' decision in State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bowling, which held that a personal injury plaintiff "must demonstrate that his or her medical expenses are reasonable and necessary." 81 So.3d 538, 540 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012). According to Sam's East, Bowling compels this Court to permit Bonaparte's testimony about the coding and billing practices of Maluff s healthcare providers in order to rebut Maluff s evidence of their reasonableness.[1]

         However, the Eleventh Circuit already rejected that argument in Castellanos v. Target Corp., which involved analogous personal injury claims based on Defendant's alleged negligence. 568 Fed.Appx. 886 (11th Cir. 2014). Despite Bowling's holding, the Eleventh Circuit held that Judge Kathleen Williams did not abuse her discretion by excluding similar billing and coding testimony from Nicole Bonaparte-the same expert witness. Id. at 886. The Court called Bowling "materially different" because the defendant alleged that the Plaintiff fabricated or exaggerated his injuries, ...


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