Florida Hospital Liens Can be Complicated, we’ve simplified them for you.
Hospital Liens: What You Need to Know
If you received notice of a hospital lien after a car accident, you may be wondering what that means. Generally, a lien is a legal claim on property or money, which is filed by a creditor to secure payment of an obligation or debt. Most likely, you received medical treatment at a hospital after your car accident and the hospital learned that your injuries were caused by the accident. Because there may be a third party who is at fault for the accident, the hospital will file a lien for payment of its bills in the event you later receive a settlement or judgment against the at-fault party (or their insurance company).
Traditionally, these hospital liens were asserted when you couldn’t pay the hospital bill on your own or did not have health insurance or PIP insurance that would cover your bills. However, some hospitals file liens against every car accident patient they treat, whether there’s insurance coverage or not. The hospital lien, therefore, is a tool used by the hospital to collect the unpaid “debt” from the settlement of a personal injury claim.
Among your discharge paperwork, you may have signed an authorization for the hospital to collect any medical debt incurred during your treatment against your settlement or any money obtained from the at-fault party. However, even if you didn’t sign anything, the hospital may have a legal right to put a lien on your settlement, depending on which county you live in (more on that below). When your case is settled or a judgment is obtained, the lien will attach to your settlement funds or your judgment, and the hospital claims will assert its bills get paid first. When a hospital lien is filed against someone in Florida, it takes priority over all other recoverable benefits such as lost wages and injury benefits.
How do Florida’s Hospital Lien Laws work?
Florida previously had a state law that applied to all hospital liens in the state, but it was determined to be unconstitutional in 2012 in the case of Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics, Inc. v. Mercury Ins. Co. of Fla., 97 So.3d 204 (Fla. 2012). Although the state law was declared unconstitutional, county lien ordinances were not. The state of Florida allows each county within the state to enact its own hospital lien statutes. As you might expect, the county ordinances vary quite a bit with various timelines and methods of perfection being required. Some Florida counties allow liens for non-profit hospitals only, while others allow them for all types of hospitals.
Hospital liens take priority over all other liens and claims, and therefore, can be a problem where the potential recovery isn’t enough to cover the patient’s other needs or medical expenses, including their attorney fees.
Why is your health insurance company not involved?
In short, hospitals hope to get more money from your accident settlement. The hospital may refuse to file a claim with the patient’s health insurance if they believe the patient might pursue a personal injury claim. Instead, the hospital may prefer to pursue maximum reimbursement through a lien on the patient’s tort recovery. In this scenario, a hospital might attempt to recover the full amount of its bill at the “usual and customary” rate, instead of the reduced and negotiated health insurance rate.
This could be a big difference in the cost of your medical services. How much of a difference is hard to calculate because of the historical secrecy in medical billing and insurance rates. Arguably, the practice is deceitful. At a minimum, it’s unfair since a patient would assume their health insurance will pay for their healthcare expenses. After all, that’s why you have health insurance.
The other driver was at fault. Doesn’t the other driver’s insurance cover everything?
The world would be a lot more fair if it were that easy. Dealing with injury claims is rarely this straightforward. Getting a settlement from the other driver’s insurance company can take months, if not years. And after all that time trying to get a settlement, you may have to turn right around and give a big chunk of it to the hospital.
What should you do next?
With a better understanding of hospital liens, you’re probably wondering what comes next. Contacting a personal injury lawyer should be your next step. Contact an attorney if you’re in an accident and have medical bills that you don’t know how to pay. This is especially true if you received treatment at a hospital and got a notice that a lien has been filed against you. C. Todd Smith Law will ensure that the hospital does not take advantage of you when it comes to the costs associated with your injury. Contact us today for your free case evaluation.
At C. Todd Smith Law, we can help you hold the negligent party accountable. Receive unparalleled attention and accessibility from your attorney and contact C. Todd Smith Law today – 407-841-8294.