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Dale v. White

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

March 7, 2018

BLAKE DALE APPELLANT
v.
JEREMY WHITE APPELLEE

         APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 04CV-16-187] HONORABLE XOLLIE DUNCAN, JUDGE

          Kezhaya Law, by: Metthew A. Kezhaya, for appellant.

          One brief only.

          RAYMOND R. ABRAMSON, JUDGE.

         Blake Dale appeals following a bench trial in the Benton County Circuit Court. On appeal, Dale argues that the circuit court erred by (1) failing to award him prejudgment interest and limiting his postjudgment interest to four percent; (2) excluding estimates for future dental and orthodontic expenses; (3) refusing to award him damages for his emergency-room bill and awarding those damages to the hospital; and (4) not awarding him punitive damages. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

         On February 8, 2016, Dale filed suit against Jeremy White alleging claims for assault, battery, and breach of contract. The complaint alleged that White kicked Dale in the face multiple times which resulted in damage to Dale's "bite structure." Dale attached a written contract to the complaint in which White assumed financial responsibility for Dale's dental expenses if Dale agreed to forgo criminal charges and any further legal action.

         The court held a bench trial on March 1, 2017. The testimony at trial showed that during a social gathering at White's home, White and Dale got into a physical altercation, resulting in injury to Dale's mouth and teeth. The incident occurred around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. Both White and Dale testified that they had been drinking alcohol throughout the evening. Dale admitted that he had used rude language toward White, and White admitted that he "threw the first punch."

         Dale testified that immediately after the incident, he filed a police report and went to the emergency room at Northwest Arkansas Hospital. He later went to an orthodontist and a dentist. At the dentist, Dale received a cleaning and an estimate for reconstruction of his teeth. At the orthodontist, he received an estimate for braces. Dale testified that he and White eventually agreed that he would drop the criminal charges against White in exchange for White's paying his dental expenses, as evidenced by the written contract. White paid for the dental cleaning but refused to pay the emergency-room bill, the orthodontic estimate, or the dental estimate.

         During trial, Dale introduced into evidence a statement from Northwest Arkansas Hospital, showing a summary of charges for $8937.95 for an emergency room visit. The statement shows the total amount due as zero dollars. Dale testified that he did not make any payments toward the $8937.95 and had no intention of paying it, but he argued the collateral-source rule allowed him to recover the sum.

         Dale attempted to introduce into evidence the estimates from the orthodontist and dentist. Specifically, the document from the dentist is labeled "TREATMENT PLAN" and totals $1545. The document from the orthodontist is labeled "Payment Options" and shows an estimated balance of $6125. The court excluded the evidence as hearsay because the estimates were for future medical expenses, not medical expenses incurred, and Dale failed to offer a witness to authenticate the documents.

         At the conclusion of trial, the court found in favor of Dale. However, the court found that the only evidence of damages was the dental bill for the cleaning and the Northwest Arkansas Hospital statement. As to the dental bill, the court found that the evidence showed that White had already paid the bill. As to the hospital statement, the court found that Dale had not paid the hospital and had no intention of paying the hospital. Accordingly, the court ordered White to pay $8937.95 directly to Northwest Arkansas Hospital, and if the hospital declined the payment, the court ordered the funds to be returned to White. The court awarded Dale $700 for pain and suffering but denied him any punitive damages.

         Prior to the entry of the written judgment, on March 10, 2017, Dale filed a motion for a new trial. He argued that the court erred by excluding the orthodontic and dental estimates, by directing the judgment to Northwest Arkansas Hospital, and by denying him punitive damages.

         On April 27, 2017, the court entered a written judgment. The written order reflects the court's oral rulings. As to the $8937.95 emergency-room bill, the court stated that Dale

is not entitled to a windfall for medical bills he didn't ever pay; however, the Court has determined that judgment will be entered against the Defendant in the sum of eight thousand thirty-seven dollars and ninety-five cents ($8, 937.95), which judgment may be satisfied only by direct payment to Northwest Arkansas Hospital in Bentonville, Arkansas. Should ...

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