After sustaining severe injuries in an accident, you most likely had to go to the hospital for emergency medical treatment. Without that treatment, you could lose your life or see a decrease in mobility or your overall odds of making a full recovery. However, many accident victims do not have the means to pay those bills–especially if they do not have medical insurance. If you have medical bills mounting quickly, the hospital may file a lien on your personal injury case. What does that mean for your claim, including any settlement you might get or offer you might receive–and how the liable party’s insurance company will distribute the funds from the claim?
What is a Lien?A lien is simply a document filed by the hospital that indicates that if you receive a settlement or verdict in your case, the hospital should get paid for its services. Usually, you will receive a Notice of Intent fifteen or more days before the hospital actively files a lien on your claim. A lien does not mean that the hospital can take the full amount of your claim, as long as the amount you are awarded exceeds the cost of your medical bills. However, it does mean that the hospital is stating its right to be paid for the services rendered after your injuries. It will usually state the specific amount that the hospital expects to be paid for the services you received after your accident, which, if you don’t have insurance, could represent thousands of dollars.
How are the Funds Distributed After a Settlement or Verdict?Once you have arrived at a settlement or verdict in your claim, the case is over. You have arrived at an amount that the insurance company will pay out to you for the damages you suffered during the accident, including your medical costs and legal fees. Once you have arrived at an agreement, the insurance company will require you to sign paperwork that notes that you cannot reopen the claim, even if you later develop more serious symptoms than you initially thought for your injuries. The funds from the settlement will then be distributed to everyone who has a right to those funds.
Your LawyerGenerally, when you sign a contract with a lawyer to have that attorney manage your personal injury claim, the lawyer will let you know up from what percentage of the settlement or verdict he will take in exchange for his services. The amount your attorney charges may depend on the type of claim you have and the services you will need from the attorney. In general, you should make sure you fully understand how much the attorney will cost before you sign the contract. In many cases, lawyers will not take a case unless they feel they can help you recover more money, even after paying their fees, than you could have recovered if you had handled the claim on your own.
The HospitalIn many cases, the medical bills associated with your accident will form the greatest percentage of your claim–and the greatest cost you may face. Sometimes, in fact, your medical bills will cost more than you can recover through a personal injury claim, particularly in the case of a low-value insurance policy or a disputed liability claim in which you ultimately accept a large percentage of the liability for the accident. Many victims find that, by the time they pay their medical bills, they may have little or no money left over from their personal injury claims. Those claims generally do not break down specific categories. Instead, the insurance company will issue a check in the amount to which you are entitled, and each party that has a share in the claim will take the funds they deserve from it. If you know that your medical bills will exceed the compensation offered through your personal injury claim, you may want to work with your medical care providers to lower those bills.
YouMost personal injury claims include compensation for your financial and non-financial losses after an accident, including both compensation for your lost wages and compensation for your pain and suffering. However, if a hospital lien has been filed in your case, you may have trouble recovering significant compensation. Generally, you, as the injured party, will receive what is left over once you have satisfied your other financial obligations, including paying your lawyer and paying out the hospital lien.
Can I Reduce the Amount of the Lien?Some personal injury victims find that they can work with the hospital to lower the amount of the lien. You may have several options that can make it easier to deal with the aftermath of your accident and manage those potentially high medical costs.
- Talk to your lawyer. Let the lawyer know that a lien has been filed on your claim and that you may need help to reduce the amount of your bills or to help protect the settlement you deserve.
- Look into any programs at the hospital that may lower your costs. Many university hospitals, in particular, often have programs that will help cover the cost of payment. Often, those programs are based on income.
- Take a look at your health insurance and see what it covers. Your lawyer can help you navigate your insurance policy and what coverage you may have for any injuries sustained in the accident.
- Call the hospital’s billing department, or the billing departments of individual care providers that have assisted in your care. Often, medical providers will help work with you to lower your bills and make your treatment more affordable.