A medical emergency can significantly impact your health and finances, especially if your injuries require a lengthy hospital stay. With how expensive medical treatment can be, it’s no wonder that around two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy say that medical bills were why they filed, according to one study.
Unfortunately, people in Alabama with high medical bills could face additional financial pressure in the form of a hospital lien. This article describes what a hospital lien is, how it works, and what you can do if a hospital puts a lien on your personal injury compensation.
The Alabama Hospital Lien Statute
A lien is a legal judgment in which someone you owe money to claims the right to certain assets so you can satisfy your unpaid debt. A hospital lien is a claim a hospital makes against you for outstanding medical bills. The specific law concerning hospital liens is found in Section 35-11-371 of the Code of Alabama.
How Does a Hospital Lien Work in Alabama?
The theory behind hospital liens is that because hospitals are required to provide emergency treatment to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay, a lien allows them to recoup their costs involved in treating accident victims.
Hospitals generally file liens in cases where they have to treat someone injured by a third party. For example, if you are hurt in a car accident caused by another driver, the hospital might file a lien so they have a claim on any money you receive through a personal injury lawsuit.
The Alabama hospital lien law gives hospitals the right to file an automatic lien against a patient’s personal injury settlement if the hospital treated the patient within one week of when the patient was injured. Once the lien has been filed, it stays in effect until someone pays for the outstanding medical bills. When the hospital files the lien, they must provide a list of all the “reasonable charges” related to your treatment.
If you are insured through Medicare or Medicaid or the hospital is unaware you have private insurance, a hospital can file a claim against you within 20 days of discharge. If you have insurance, the law requires the hospital to file the lien against your insurer, not you directly.
Are Hospitals Taking Advantage of Injury Victims?
If a hospital files a lien against your personal injury award, it can be challenging to get all the money you need to pay for your lost wages, pain, suffering, and other damages related to an accident. Because the lien gives the hospital a priority claim against any money you receive from a lawsuit, the hospital may take a significant chunk of your settlement award.
Furthermore, a hospital’s definition of “reasonable” charges may not be all that reasonable. Hospitals have been known to inflate the cost of their services to recover more money from patients and insurance companies.
How Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., Can Help
If you’re facing a hospital lien, our personal injury lawyers can help you maximize the amount of compensation you can keep. We can help if you believe the hospital or another healthcare provider is being unreasonable with their charges.