After a car accident, you are ultimately responsible for your medical bills, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t pursue compensation from other sources. In most cases, an insurance company will pay the bills. However, doctors, medical professionals, and medical organizations expect you to pay them sooner rather than later, and an insurance claim might take longer, especially if you initiated settlement negotiations or litigation against an insurance company.
Handling Your Medical Bills in the Early Stages of Negotiations or Litigation
Most medical professionals understand that your injuries might preclude you from working. These professionals may also know that insurance companies often take from 30 to 90 days to pay on a claim. Given this, most doctors and hospitals are open to working with you on developing a payment plan.
Call the doctor and/or medical facility to advise them that you are working with an attorney on a settlement or possible litigation. Most will stop trying to collect until the settlement goes through or until the court makes a ruling in your case. You can also request that doctors forego reporting any late payments on your credit report until after you receive the settlement or court-awarded damages amount.
Showing Proof of Legal Action
Your doctors might ask you to show proof of your settlement negotiations or litigation. Your attorney can draft a letter letting them know that you have retained an attorney, and that you are in the process of settlement negotiations or litigation. However, your attorney cannot give you an exact date for the completion of your legal proceedings.
If you are in settlement negotiations, the insurance companies might not agree to a fair and reasonable amount, in which case, you might decide to litigate. In case of litigation, court dates often change, including court dates for final trials.
You do not need to give the doctors or medical facilities the details of your car accident case. If they do ask, refer them to your attorney.
Medical Bills Covered by a Settlement
Medical expenses fall under economic damages, as medical expenses have a dollar amount associated with them.
Your settlement or trial award should cover:
- Past medical expenses, which are those from the time of the accident through the time of settlement or your trial award, and
- Future medical expenses, which are those that you incur after you receive the settlement or trial award.
Medical expenses include the costs of surgery, follow-up appointments, any medical equipment you might need, upgrading your home with shower handles, installing wheelchair ramps, and other action that you must take to make it easier for you to remain self-sufficient, particularly if your injuries caused long-term disabilities. Your medical expenses also include the costs of on-going cognitive therapy, physical therapy, and psychological therapy.
Future Medical Expenses
If your injuries caused long-term or permanent disabilities, you most likely have future medical expenses related to the accident.
Injuries that may cause long-term or permanent disabilities include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Injuries to your nerves, including in your arms, hands, feet, and legs
- Neck and shoulder injuries
Many of these injuries can cause an individual’s muscles to atrophy without constant physical therapy.
A catastrophic accident, or even just witnessing one, may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hearing certain sounds or seeing certain things can cause anxiety and panic. Some people also suffer from depression because their injuries prevent them from working. Even those that can go back to work, but cannot earn as much as they did before the accident, may suffer from depression from worrying about how to make ends meet. Having your medical expenses paid for alleviates some of that worry.
Other Economic Damages
In addition to having your medical expenses paid, you can also have other economic damages paid, such as past and future lost wages. As with medical expenses, past lost wages include those from the time of your accident through the time of settlement or trial. Future lost wages are for those you expect to miss out on after your case is concluded.
If you can go back to work, but you can no longer perform your regular job duties and have to take a pay cut, you may receive partial lost wages for the difference in what you currently earn and what you earned before the accident.
Having your medical expenses paid doesn’t help you pay your other bills, particularly if you can no longer work.
If your injuries caused long-term or permanent disabilities, you might also collect non-economic damages, including compensation for:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of use of a body part
- Loss of use of a bodily function
- Loss of enjoyment of life
The non-economic damages that you recover are not intended to make you physically whole again, nor do they bring back a loved one you lost because of an accident, but such compensation can help you provide for your family when you lose your income. Non-economic damages help alleviate the stress caused by worrying about paying bills, including your medical bills, especially when you know that you will have medical issues for the rest of your life.
The court might also award punitive damages in your case. To qualify, you must prove that the defendant’s actions were grossly negligent or intentional. Courts award punitive damages to punish defendants for their actions and to deter future similar behavior, but this money can also help you maintain your previous financial lifestyle, even if you can no longer work. Again, compensation doesn’t take away your pain and suffering or bring back a loved one, but it does help relieve a lot of financial stress, which allows you to focus on your physical and mental recovery.