Medical Damages: The Doctor Will See You Now
This post is part of a series on the kinds of damages that can result from an automobile collision. Check out the Damages Category for information about property damages, lost wages, and pain and suffering. This post will cover harm to your body that requires past or future medical treatment.
For the purpose of this post I am using the term Medical Damages to describe past and future medical expenses.
While a car is a machine that can be replaced a human body is much more fickle. The injuries you may suffer from an automobile wreck can be wide ranging and can linger for months or even years after. As time goes on mounting medical bills and physical injury can drain your bank account and put ever greater stress on you and your family. If you are having trouble paying medical expenses contact an attorney for a free consultation to learn about your rights.
What injuries can I recover my medical expenses for?
You are entitled to recover compensation from the responsible party for any medical expenses you incur as a result of the wreck. This includes, but is not limited to:
Bills from doctors, nurses, physical therapists, and other medical professionals
Bills for prescription drugs, medical devices (crutches, soft casts, etc.), and over the counter drugs.
Bills from hospitals, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers
Bills for transportation to and from your care, including mileage, and the cost of a taxi if you are unable to drive yourself.
Future medical bills, if applicable
Do I have to pay my medical bills at the time of service?
Typically yes, you will become responsible for the medical bills at the time of service. Even though the responsible party is required to pay for your medical expenses they will not pay the bills as you receive them. Instead, the responsible party will make a single lump sum payment at the end of your case.
Having to pay your ongoing medical expenses is one of the biggest burdens my clients face. If you are also unable to work you may be facing the problem of mounting medical bills, no income, and rapidly shrinking savings. Even people with health insurance often have deductibles of several thousand dollars that have to be paid first.
How can I reduce the amount of medical expenses I have to pay upfront?
There are several things we can do to reduce the burden of ongoing medical expenses. The first is to look for any other insurance that will pay the medical bills as they are incurred. Health insurance is the obvious place to look, but many people are also covered by what is known as Medical Payments Coverage (often called Medpay or PIP). You may also have short term disability or catastrophic injury insurance available to you.
Before you say “I don’t have any of those other types of insurance,” think again. You could be covered by another person’s insurance and not know it. For example, you may be covered under the policy of a spouse or parent or another family member. Your employer may have also bought this insurance on your behalf, or you may have purchased coverage a long time ago and simply forgot you had it.
The second technique I can use to reduce the burden of ongoing medical expenses is to, with your permission, call the doctor and explain the situation to her. Usually once the doctor understands that there is insurance money available the bills will, at the least, not be sent to collections. This technique, while simple, is usually very effective.
What about attorney liens?
Some medical providers will advertise that they treat, “On an attorney lien,” and may ask you or your attorney to sign some paperwork. A discussion of liens is a topic for another blog post, so I’m going to generalize here. Typically an “attorney lien” is an informal term used to describe a situation where the medical provider will treat the patient at no upfront cost and be paid out of the settlement or judgement in the future. Some facilities will also file a valid medical lien, which will give them a much stronger right to payment, against your case. Having such a lien can complicate settlement and reduce your negotiating power.
My advice: Do not sign any document claiming to be a lien unless you have had it reviewed by an attorney. Again, there is a lot more that I could write about liens but it is beyond the scope of this post.
What if my medical needs are ongoing, or if I need future treatment?
The best practice is to wait until you are completely done with your medical treatment before collecting compensation for the harms you have suffered. We want to make sure we know the full scope of your injuries before we try to collect any compensation. Once a case is settled or goes to a verdict the case is over. If we later discover additional injuries that you need treatment for we cannot go back and request additional money.
Sometimes it is not practical to wait until you are completely done treating before seeking compensation for your medical expenses. In such a situation we will have to make our best estimate about what your future medical expenses will be and ask for advance payment. It may be worthwhile to bring in an expert who specializes in predicting future medical expenses. Factors to consider when estimating future medical expenses include:
The cost of the medical treatment
The likelihood that you will need additional treatment
The availability and cost of alternative treatments
How invasive (painful, annoying, disrupting) the treatments are
The success rate of the particular treatment
Any side effects and risks associated with a particular treatment
As you can see, estimating the cost of future medical expenses can be very difficult, which is why we try to wait until the client is completely done with treatment before we try to collect medical expenses.
Should I restrict my medical treatment to keep my medical expenses low?
No. Do not compromise your health for the sake of your case. That being said, I would discourage you from seeking medical treatment that is ineffective or unnecessary or otherwise against medical advice. But do not harm yourself because you think it will improve your case. You only get one body.
In the aftermath of an automobile collision you may have injuries to your body that require medical treatment. As the bills begin to pile up the stress on you and your family can become immense. Worse, you may be burdened with the uncertainty of future medical expenses for years to come. A personal injury attorney can help you navigate the complex world of insurance companies, medical bills, and courts to make sure you are compensated for your injuries. Contact an attorney for a free consultation.