After your car accident, you want to seek medical care as soon as possible. At the same time, you want to avoid making decisions at the hospital that have hefty legal consequences and could potentially jeopardize your ability to receive a car accident insurance settlement for your injuries. Something as innocent-seeming as signing a hospital release could mean that your settlement goes directly to the hospital rather than to you.
The act of giving the hospital to pursue a claim directly against your personal injury protection (PIP) auto insurance policy or an at-fault driver’s bodily injury liability (BIL) policy is referred to as a “hospital lien.” Similar to how a home lien grants unpaid contractors the right to be the first to receive proceeds from a home sale, a hospital lien allows your healthcare provider organization to be the first in line for your car accident injury settlement.
Making matters worse, a provider who knows that they have a hospital lien in place may try to maximize billable treatments. It can even get to the point where your insurance settlement is 100% drained before you could see a single dime out of it. Since the average hospital bill for an ER visit has climbed 31% in recent years, accident injury victims could find themselves in serious debt and with all of their available insurance resources completely drained.
Avoiding this situation requires some awareness of your legal rights, and you may also benefit from receiving the services of a car accident attorney in Miami. You can use the following 4 tips an experienced accident lawyer might use to avoid signing away your rights to a fair settlement.
You should notify your emergency healthcare providers that you were in a car accident during your hospital visit. This information ensures that they can administer appropriate treatment and take the necessary tests given the injuries you were likely to sustain.
However, giving them this information is a double edged sword. Knowing that you were injured in a car accident, they may try to seek out your PIP car insurance policy information or the information for any at-fault driver’s BIL policies.
Hospitals that procure auto insurance information can place a lien on any settlement paid out under that policy. As described above, a lien means that the hospital is entitled to be the first in line when receiving settlements.
A hospital cannot place a lien of this type on health insurance claims, so they may be compelled to work through auto insurance instead, where they can wield more legal weight. Indeed, an attorney experienced with representing hospitals once asserted that, “a lien can and should be filed any other time where the patient was injured and is bringing a liability claim or lawsuit against an individual or entity that the patient believes is liable.”
Agreeing to a lien takes away much of your legal agency when it comes to negotiating and receiving your injury settlement. You want to be in control of how your hospital bills get paid, after all. You also want to be able to pay your attorney fees directly through your insurance settlement — something a hospital lien precludes, thereby leaving you on the hook for legal costs.
To avoid these complications, use your personal health insurance policy to pay for your medical costs directly. You can avoid a lien, and your billing rate will likely be lower. Your medical insurance company has the right to recover their costs from your settlement — a process known as subrogation — but they are much less likely to try to maximize their portion compared to a healthcare provider.
One release form a hospital may encourage you to sign is permission for them to request a copy of the police report. While they may justify that the police report contains information pertinent to your treatment, such as what side your vehicle was hit from, the report also contains all relevant auto insurance policy numbers! The hospital can then pursue the insurers directly and file a lien against your treatment costs.
You want to avoid a situation where the hospital administers unnecessary tests, especially if they gain access to the auto insurance policy number of your PIP insurance or an at-fault driver’s BIL insurance.
Hospitals can often seek to maximize billable procedures when auto insurance companies are involved because these insurance companies do not have as much contractual protection or bargaining weight compared to health insurers. They may thereby order tests, procedures, or medications that are not wholly necessary to your treatment, increasing their settlement claim should they have a lien agreement in place.
Reports abound of patients admitted to the ER and who don’t receive anything except a triage nurse review, only to get hit with thousands of dollars in medical bills. One patient even received a bill for $5,751 even though she didn’t see a doctor and got little more than a bandage and an ice pack!
Never refuse any tests or procedures that are medically necessary, but at the same time be inquisitive any time something is recommended. Ask how the medical action is necessary to your treatment, and what cheaper alternatives might exist, including the option of avoiding the action altogether.
Hospital legal teams can be intimidating, and healthcare staff can often encourage patients to sign legal release forms that they don’t comprehend fully. The result is that car accident injury victims can feel intimidated in the face of the legal might a large provider organization can wield. The victim may feel too afraid to fight the lien or to fight for their rights to a fair insurance settlement.
Know that you don’t have to agree to a lien — hospitals cannot refuse emergency treatment to patients who cannot make immediate payment — and that you have the legal right to dispute any agreements made between you, your healthcare provider, and any insurers. One recent case in Florida even found that some local laws permitting hospital liens violated the Florida constitution.
You can contact a car accident attorney in Miami immediately after your accident or at any point during your treatment. They can represent you while negotiating on your behalf with insurers and healthcare providers. They can also offer strategic legal advice, often helping clients avoid situations where they unwittingly sign away their rights.
If you have been injured in a car accident and want to fight for your rights to fair compensation while avoiding giving hospitals too much control over your settlement, you can speak with a lawyer who may take up your case. Schedule your free case evaluation today by calling the toll-free, 24 hour number above or by using our online contact form.
Don’t wait until you are facing pressure for your medical bills! Contact an experienced Florida car accident lawyer today.