Can you be stuck with medical bills (especially costly hospital bills) if you are in an accident?
Short Answer: Yes.
After the recent financial crisis, the government put practices and regulations to protect borrowers and debt-holders from aggressive debt collection. During the Obama administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sought to restrict debt-collection activities. Under the current administration, the CFPB has loosened up on debt-collectors.
While stating that the rule changes will improve communications with borrowers and result in fewer lawsuits, industry executives are eager to collect monies owed to their businesses.
Hospitals and clinics are businesses.
According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, consumer advocates fear that borrowers won't be sufficiently protected from aggressive collections agents, with calamitous results for some. The WSJ referenced a sampling of states with swelling debt-claim filings show ranges from a 29% rise in Texas to a whopping 56% increase in Delaware. Debt collection firms are purchasing record amounts of debt.
Courts are overwhelmed, and borrowers are feeling their sting.
In Virginia, the Mary Washington Hospital – named after the first President's mother – actually began garnishing wages through default judgements. According to a recent report by local Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach NPR station WLRN, the hospital is not unique: according to the American Medical Association's recent article published in their Journal, 36% of Virginia hospitals sued patients and garnished their wages in 2017.
I have seen car accident injury victims get bills from local hospitals like Delray Medical Center in Delray Beach, Florida in excess of $25,000.00 for a visit that lasted a few hours. Some of the largest bills I've seen were from Florida Medical Center which is centered in between Lauderhill, Florida, Oakland Park, Florida, and Sunrise, Florida.
But can you be stuck with medical bills if the accident wasn't your fault?
In Florida, if you get treatment after a car accident within 14 days of the accident, and you happen to have car insurance, your car insurance will pay a big portion of your bills. However, your insurance will only pay up to $10,000.00. So, if you are taken by ambulance to a local hospital anywhere in South Florida, there is a big risk that you will owe more than $10,000.00.
You will be responsible for paying off any outstanding balance.
But what if you weren't at fault for the accident?
You will have two options to get the bills paid. First, you can negotiate with the at-fault driver's insurance company (if the at-fault driver actually had insurance). Second, if you happen to have the additional UM/UIM coverage on your car insurance, you can negotiate with your own insurance company to pay over $10,000.00.
So here is the recipe for getting stuck with medical bills after a car accident:
- You went to a hospital and got a big bill.
- The at-fault driver didn't have insurance OR had a policy with no bodily injury coverage.
- You didn't have insurance OR you get bills in excess of $10,000.00.
Ready for some good news?
I can't speak for other personal injury attorneys, but the vast majority of my clients walk away from their cases not owing a dime to anyone.
Slip, Trip, and Falls and Other Accidents:
If you are injured in any other accident other than a car accident, your best option is to pay for your treatment using your health insurance.
When should you hire a lawyer?
Any experienced personal injury attorney who gives you the time of day will do his or her best to ensure that you aren't burdened with debt after an accident. However, no lawyer can guarantee the outcome of your case.
It's our job as personal injury attorneys to do our best to make sure that you get the medical treatment you need and that your bills are covered. But, when you are faced with a big bill and no insurance coverage, there is a risk of owing money to a debt-collecting hospital.
My advice is to speak with a personal injury attorney in your area who is familiar with the billing practices of local hospitals as soon as possible after an accident.