You suffered serious injuries in a car accident, and now, the medical bills are piling up. You may have heard that if someone else caused your auto accident, the responsible individual must pay for your medical bills. Who takes responsibility for paying those bills? How do you make sure that your medical bills get paid properly? In this blog post, we aim to answer those questions.
Your Medical Bills Are Your Obligation
It may seem obvious, but it bears saying: The medical bills for medical care you receive after a car accident are your responsibility, one way or another. The same goes for bills for the care provided to your children. Wherever the money comes from to pay them, the bills are your legal obligation.
Who Pays Your Medical Bills, Usually
In the typical case, Pennsylvanians pay for their medical bills through a combination of insurance benefits and out-of-pocket expenditures. Common sources of money to pay medical bills are:
Personal Injury Protection Insurance
In Pennsylvania, drivers must carry personal injury protection (PIP) insurance, which provides coverage for a fixed amount of medical expenses and lost wages following a car accident. Most drivers carry the minimum of $10,000 of protection. Lower-cost policies may have higher deductibles than others: a high-deductible policy might, for example, kick in only after you have paid the first $1,000 of those expenses.
In the case of minor injuries, your personal injury protection insurance might provide all the coverage you need to take care of your medical expenses after a car accident. Still, medical bills pile up fast, so it is not difficult to exceed the $10,000 minimum PIP coverage when treating even the most minor injuries.
PIP protection is the primary insurance that pays for your medical care after a car accident. If the cost of care exceeds PIP benefits, a patient’s own health care insurance will often pick up the slack. Oftentimes, a hospital will charge your health insurance company first, and then that company will seek reimbursement from your PIP insurance company.
Car accident victims who have a health savings account can also use those funds to pay for medical expenses. Health savings accounts allow Americans to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for medical care. Sometimes, employers also make contributions to an employee’s health savings account, significantly increasing the funds the employee has available when large medical expenses arise.
When medical expenses cause substantial financial hardship, health care providers sometimes offer hardship arrangements to reduce what a patient owes. The availability of these programs varies by hospital and health care organization. Some have specific income limits and other requirements that patients must meet.
Personal Payment Arrangements
Most hospitals and medical facilities will work with patients to help establish a payment plan for medical expenses. Some medical providers may also accept medical credit cards, which may, in some cases, allow you to pay off your medical debt in a more reasonable time frame.
Seeking Compensation for Medical Bills
Victims of car accidents caused by someone else’s careless or reckless conduct may find it unfair to face a mounting stack of medical bills they must pay. They are right to feel that way. Under Pennsylvania law, a person who causes harm to another has legal liability for that harm. In other words, whomever wrongfully causes a car accident victim’s injuries should have to pay the victim’s medical bills.
Who Has Legal Liability for Your Medical Bills?
In many car accidents, the driver of one of the vehicles involved makes a careless or reckless mistake, leading to a collision. In that common scenario, the driver who made the mistake faces legal liability for damages to anyone injured by his or her actions. However, the other driver is not always the only party who should, under the law, pay for a car accident victim’s medical expenses. In these alternative scenarios, another party may have liability instead, or may share liability with the at-fault driver:
A bar or restaurant served alcohol to the driver who caused an accident, even though the driver was already visibly intoxicated and the server or bartender knew the driver planned to get behind the wheel. In Pennsylvania, bars and restaurants must pay careful attention to their patrons, because it is illegal to serve alcohol to someone who is visibly intoxicated. A business that serves alcohol in violation of the law can face legal liability to anyone the patron goes on to harm in a drunk driving car accident.
A mechanical failure caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle, ultimately causing the car accident. Drivers have a basic obligation to keep their vehicles in working order. Sometimes, however, even when drivers obey that rule, vehicles experience mechanical failures that put drivers, passengers, and others in serious danger. If a mechanical failure leads to an accident that leaves someone injured, then legal liability for damages arising from the accident may fall to:
- The vehicle or vehicle part manufacturer. Under Pennsylvania law, vehicle manufacturers have a basic duty not to make and sell unreasonably dangerous vehicles or vehicle parts. If a car or car part defect causes an accident, the manufacturer may have liability to anyone injured.
- A vehicle mechanic. If a mechanic who works on a vehicle makes a careless or reckless mistake that leads to mechanical failure and an accident, then the mechanic may have legal liability for damages to anyone harmed. A mechanic may also share responsibility for an accident if he should reasonably have noticed a problem with a vehicle or vehicle part while making other repairs or conducting an inspection on the vehicle but failed to note that problem or to do anything about it.
The driver’s employer required the driver to continue working in unsafe conditions, such as in an unsafe vehicle, while ill, or after driving for too many hours. Under Pennsylvania law, employers generally have legal responsibility for the actions of their employees while employees are on the clock. An employer that requires its employees to work in dangerous circumstances that are reasonably likely to lead to a car accident may, therefore, share legal liability for any harm caused by the accident. But that is not all. Employers may also have liability for their employees’ carelessness or recklessness, even if the employers did not do anything specific that contributed to their employees causing an accident.
What Medical Bills a Legally Liable Party Should Pay
Generally speaking, a party with legal liability for causing a car accident in Pennsylvania should pay all of the medical bills of anyone harmed by that party’s careless or reckless actions, after any no-fault insurance benefits have been exhausted. The legally liable party may owe money to you directly, and also to an insurer who paid your medical expenses.
That is why, after an accident, experienced car accident injury lawyers know it is critical to track all of a client’s medical expenses—past, present, and future. In assessing how much money a legally-liable party may owe to a car accident victim, a lawyer will make sure to focus not just on the costs of medical services, but also on medically-related items that can lead to enormous expenses, such as:
- Prosthetic devices. An artificial limb can range between $5,000 and $50,000. Lawyers often make sure to calculate the potential cost of future prosthetic devices as well, because many patients need to replace their prosthesis every three to five years after losing a limb.
- Durable medical equipment. Car accident victims who suffer spinal cord damage that leads to paralysis often need a wheelchair to get around, and must make substantial modifications to their living space. Lawyers take care to calculate the future costs of these devices and adaptations to make sure a client has financial resources for the future.
- Therapy visits. Following serious injuries, car accident victims often need long-term therapy; physical therapy to help restore strength and mobility; occupational therapy to help relearn how to perform common activities; and psychological therapy to help cope with mental and emotional trauma following an accident. It is rarely a sure thing that insurance will cover the therapy a car accident victim needs, which is why lawyers include those expenses in their calculations of how much money their client should receive from parties with legal liability.
- Health care costs for secondary conditions. Some car accident injuries, even when healed, leave a victim struggling with a vast array of secondary health complications that could last for a lifetime. Lawyers focus on the likely medical expenses that will flow from these complications in calculating the damages their clients should receive after a car accident.
In calculating these expenses, experienced car accident injury lawyers often work in coordination with experts in the fields of financial planning and medicine whose opinions may prove crucial in demonstrating why a client deserves a certain amount of money as damages.
How to Obtain Compensation for Car Accident Medical Bills
To recover compensation for medical expenses caused by car accident injuries, victims should speak with an experienced car accident injury attorney as soon as possible. It is almost always a mistake for car accident victims to try to negotiate a settlement with an at-fault party or the party’s insurance company on their own. Unlike most car accident victims, experienced attorneys know the ins-and-outs of negotiating and of using the legal process to make sure their clients recover every penny of compensation they deserve under Pennsylvania law.
In a typical car accident representation, clients and their lawyers:
- Start with an initial consultation to discuss the accident and the factors that contributed to it. Experienced car accident injury lawyers always offer this initial consultation free of charge. It is a confidential conversation that comes with no obligation on the part of the injured accident victim. If the victim decides not to move forward with a legal action, the lawyer must honor the confidentiality of anything discussed with the victim at the consultation.
- Investigate the accident and injuries to determine who has legal liability, and the expected costs of a client’s medical needs. If the client and lawyer decide to move forward together, the lawyer will typically investigate the accident further, identify parties with legal liability, and spend time calculating the amount of past, present, and future financial damages (both medical bills and other costs) the client has incurred. Then the attorney and client discuss and plan a strategy for recovering those damages from the parties identified.
- Send a demand to the legally-liable party or the party’s insurer. In the ordinary case, the next step the lawyer and client take is to send a demand to any legally liable party, or the party’s insurer, requesting payment of damages sufficient to cover the client’s medical needs (in addition to other expenses). Typically, this leads to a negotiation between the lawyer and representatives for the liable parties. Ideally, these negotiations end in a settlement between the parties and the client that pays the client an acceptable amount of compensation. The decision to agree to a settlement is the client’s alone.
- Take further legal action, including going to trial. In some cases, negotiations do not lead to an appropriate settlement offer from the party with legal liability. In those cases, the lawyer, with the client’s agreement, can move forward with taking legal action in Pennsylvania courts. Often, filing this lawsuit will, in turn, lead to further negotiations that end in a favorable settlement. If not, then the lawsuit may lead to a trial at which a jury decides the amount of compensation the client deserves to pay for medical expenses resulting from the car accident.
How to Seek Compensation to Pay for Your Medical Bills
Although you bear ultimate responsibility for paying your medical bills after a car accident, you should not have to come up with that money on your own if an accident resulted from someone else’s careless or reckless actions. Contact an experienced car accident injury attorney today to learn more.