How to Handle Your Medical Bills After an Accident
A serious accident can cause a major disruption to a victim’s life. Not only do injured victims have to deal with the physical pain and mental distress of an accident, but they are also likely to start getting medical bills soon after the accident.
It is no secret that medical care in Florida is extremely expensive. In a recent study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the median cost of an emergency room visit was $1,233 – and that is just to get in the door. With a serious injury, that cost may only be the tip of the iceberg.
In Florida, many accident victims will be able to obtain coverage for their medical bills through some insurance. It may be their own insurance company, or it may be under an insurance policy held by the driver or business whose negligence caused their accident. Regardless, victims must be able to access compensation to pay their medical bills.
Unfortunately, the legal process for obtaining compensation can be slow. If you were seriously injured, you need treatment now, but you may not be able to recover a full and fair accident settlement for months or even years. This can make things extremely confusing for victims. To help, the personal injury team at Buckman & Buckman has put together a guide for handling your personal injury medical bills.
Paying Your Bills Before You Receive Compensation
If your accident was caused by another party, you are likely going to start incurring medical expenses long before you are able to reach a medical bill settlement with the responsible insurance company. Unfortunately, until you are able to reach that settlement, those bills will be your responsibility. This leads many victims to want to settle their claim as soon as they possibly can. Victims generally want to obtain compensation so that they can pay their bills and move on with their lives.
While this is certainly an understandable impulse, injured victims need to be extremely careful. This is because the big insurance companies often try to take advantage of a victim’s desire to reach an early settlement by starting with quick but unfairly low settlement offers. To protect yourself and your family, you must decline any settlement offer that is for less than full compensation. Accepting a quick but low offer will come back to haunt you down the road. You will reach a point where your recovery will simply not be able to pay for all of your damages. This means that you will be unfairly stuck with the bills.
Before you reach a medical bill settlement, you should look to rely on your own health insurance provider to provide some upfront coverage. Your health insurance provider, whether it is a private company or Medicare/Medicaid, should pay your bills while your case is ongoing. Then, once you are able to bring your personal injury claim all of the way through the legal process, you will be able to reimburse the insurer for the appropriate amount. If you lack health insurance, you should speak to an attorney regarding specific strategies for handling ongoing medical bills while pursuing your personal injury claim.
The Importance of Documenting All Medical Expenses
To ensure that you are able to obtain the full and fair payout that you rightfully deserve, you must document all of your medical expenses. Indeed, the failure to properly document medical expenses often leads to victims being underpaid by the big insurance companies. Without adequate documentation, your claim will not be paid in the correct amount.
Unfortunately, in some cases, insurance companies may even try to dispute your bills even if you have valid documentation. You need to be fully organized and prepared so that you can fight back. Be sure to get all of your medical bills and records to a personal injury lawyer who will be able to make a strong claim on your behalf.
Depending on the specific facts of your claim, you may be entitled to recover medical compensation for:
- Ambulance fees
- Emergency room costs
- X-rays and other lab tests
- Hospital room charges
- Required medication
- Required medical equipment
- Visits to specialist
- Costs related to physical therapy
- Transportation costs
Dos and Don’ts After an Accident
Do Seek Immediate Medical Assistance
After an accident, it is imperative that you seek professional medical assistance as soon as possible. This is important for both legal reasons and health-related reasons. Remember, many injuries, particularly auto accident injuries, come with a delayed onset, so you may be far more injured than you initially believe.
Do Attend All Follow-Up Appointments
If you were seriously hurt in a Florida car accident, a trip to the emergency room is not enough. You need to schedule (and attend) an immediate follow-up appointment with a qualified medical professional. If you fail to seek medical treatment within 72 hours of your car crash, certain types of insurance coverage, most notably your PIP coverage, may deny your claim.
Don’t Use the Florida Highway Patrol’s Accident Report as Medical Documentation
Under Florida law, FHP officers are supposed to write an official crash report whenever there is a serious motor vehicle accident. Officers are required to note any injuries at the scene of the accident. However, generally, these reports will only make brief mention of the victim’s injuries. As police officers are not medical professionals, their descriptions of injuries are usually vague and are sometimes inaccurate. In fact, FHP accident reports often describe injuries as “minor” when they are actually quite serious. The bottom line: your accident report should not serve as documentation for your injuries.
Don’t Rely on Insurance Adjusters for Guidance
Insurance companies are not eager to pay out full and fair claims. These companies are big businesses, always looking out for their own bottom line above all else. As such, injured victims should not rely on insurance adjusters for guidance through the complex accident claims process. If you are seeking recovery from an insurance company, their representatives should be thought of as an adversarial party in your case. If you sustained serious injuries, it is best to deal with insurance adjusters through an attorney who has experience settling medical bills.
Fault vs. No-Fault State Coverage of Medical Bills
Many injured victims want to know: Who pays the medical bills in a car accident? Ultimately, this will depend on several different factors. These cases can become especially complex in Florida, as the state operates under a complicated system of insurance regulations. In fact, in contrast to the majority of U.S. states, Florida has a “no-fault” insurance law. This law, the Florida Motor Vehicle No Fault Law, allows policyholders to recover some compensation for their medical bills, regardless of who was to blame for the car accident.
Under the law, all Florida motorists are required to carry at least $10,000 worth of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. If you are injured in a Sarasota car accident, regardless of who was at fault, your PIP coverage will kick in immediately. In other words, your PIP insurer will be responsible for providing its share payment, without delay.
This much different than in “fault” insurance states, where victims must pursue compensation from the at-fault party, paying their own medical costs until full and fair reimbursement can be obtained. However, even in Florida, you may need to bring a personal injury claim against the at-fault party in your auto accident case. Victims with very serious injuries, such as disfigurement, loss of limb or any other type of permanent injury, may take their claim outside of the no-fault system. It can take longer to reach settlement in these cases.
How to Handle Worst-Case Scenarios
Injured car accident victims need medical treatment, period. Paying for that treatment is secondary to making sure that a victim’s health and safety are properly protected. Unfortunately, there are cases where injured victims do run into worst-case scenarios. If no insurance coverage is available to pay for your treatment, and you do not have a viable personal injury claim, then you would be responsible for your covering the costs of your own medical treatment.
If you are simply unable to pay your medical debts because you lack the financial resources and no friends are family members are able to cover your costs, you should speak to an attorney about negotiating down your medical expenses so that you can get onto a sustainable monthly payment plan; or otherwise, you may choose to have the medical debt discharged through a personal bankruptcy.
Get Legal Help Today
At Buckman & Buckman, our Sarasota personal injury attorneys have extensive experience serving accident victims in Florida. We have the skills and experience needed to help you deal with your medical bills.
If you were injured in an accident, please do not hesitate to contact our team today to schedule your free case evaluation. We will listen to your story, review your claim and explain to you your rights and legal options so that you can make an informed decision on what to do next.