Some people are afraid to proceed with pursuing a personal injury claim because they are afraid to get stuck with medical bills and attorney fees they cannot pay. Here are some things worth keeping in mind regarding these important issues.
First, in most cases, personal injury lawyers work on "contingency" which means they don't get a fee unless they recover compensation for you. This compensation is usually obtained from the responsible party's insurance company. However, in some cases, the compensation comes from your own insurance company (this happens if the other party didn't have insurance or not enough insurance, provided you have "uninsured" and "underinsured" motorist provisions on your auto policy).
In any event, if you don't recover anything, then you don't owe a fee to the lawyer. I've worked on some cases for 2 years before getting a fee. In most cases, you can choose to dismiss your claim for one reason or another - if you didn't get any recovery, then you still don't owe the lawyer. A good lawyer will not force you to proceed with your claim just so he/she can get a fee.
Clients worry about getting stuck owing a lawyer for services. In most cases, it isn't much of an issue. You might be on the hook for some "costs" such as filing fees etc., but before filing a lawsuit, there are rarely many significant costs. In many cases, the lawyers will waive minor costs as business expenses (i.e., obtaining the police report, getting medical records, photo printing fees, etc.).
Next, clients worry about owing the doctor money for treatment. While it is true that most doctors won't work for free, there are strategies you can employ to minimize the risks. Here are some common routes to entertain:
First, you can ask the doctor to treat you on a "lien." That means the doctor will provide treatment to you without up front costs. In most cases, they will do so only if you are represented by a lawyer. They will submit a bill to your lawyer after you conclude treatment. The bill is usually paid out of proceeds obtained when settling with the responsible party. However, if you don't recover any money from the responsible party (or from your insurance), you are still technically on the hook for the doctor's bill. The "lien" approach is good when you don't have any other insurance resources and/or if liability is clearly established in your favor.
Therefore, if that is a concern (i.e., liability is an issue and there is a danger the other party won't pay, or there is another concern you won't be able to pay the doctor), then you should consider having your medical bills paid by your health insurance company. If you choose to do that, the responsible party won't entertain the full amount of your bills, but they will instead consider the amount accepted as payment in full. That can be a fraction of your actual bills. Also, it depends if the health care provider has an agreement with your health insurance company (i.e., they are a preferred provider, etc.).
That means if your actual bills are $3000 but your health insurance paid $1000, the insurance company for the responsible party will only consider $1000 as your bills (if your provider accepted it as payment in full). That may be a detriment, because your case will seem "smaller" and less significant as a result. However, on the positive side, you will have peace of mind knowing your bills have been paid. Make sure your provider will accept the payment as payment in full if this is important to you.
Now, one more caveat to consider - your health insurance will expect to be repaid in most cases. You have to reimburse them from any settlement you may get. This expectation of reimbursement is usually contractual. The silver lining is that, in most cases, you only have to pay them back IF you recover any money. If you don't recover any money, then you generally don't have to reimburse them. That way, your medical bills are paid and you don't have to worry about any outstanding medical bills.
Finally, you can have your bills paid by your Medical Payments Coverage, if you have that kind of coverage under your auto policy. This is known as MPC. You need to find out if you have that kind of coverage, and you also need to learn how much you have. Typical amounts are $2000, $5000, and sometimes more. In some cases, your auto insurance will only pay secondary to any health insurance you may have. In other cases, they will go ahead and pay regardless.
Therefore, your health care provider can bill your auto insurance instead of billing your health insurance (very helpful especially if you don't have health insurance). Again, that doesn't mean your MPC will pay every dollar billed, but you need to ask the health care provider if they are going to accept payment from the MPC policy as payment in full or if they are going to hold you responsible for the balance. You see, your health care provider may have a contract with your health insurance company to accept payments as payment in full, but they probably don't have the same agreement with your auto insurance company. Similarly, your auto insurance company will expect to be repaid the MPC benefits IF you recover from the other party. If you don't recover anything from the other party, you generally don't have to repay your auto insurance company for payments made under the MPC provisions. Therefore, your medical bills are paid and you don't have to worry.
Just keep in mind that how your bills are paid is important. Strategically, you may consider one avenue over another. Just talk to your lawyer about the pros and cons of each approach. At the end of the day, you want to proceed cautiously, and your lawyer should offer you some direction about which path to take.
If you have been involved in a serious car accident and you want some legal advice, call Robert Mansour at (661) 414-7100 for a free consultation. Robert serves Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Newhall, Stevenson Ranch, Castaic and surrounding communities.
There has been an issue that has come up twice in the past week that I think needs to be addressed. If your vehicle is a total loss, the law provides that the responsible party (or their insurance company) is supposed to compensate you for the reasonable value of your car. My client was recently offered $750 for his car. He was furious. He said, "How am I supposed to buy a new car with $750?" I told him the law doesn't provide him with a NEW car. The law says he gets the "reasonable value" of his car when the accident occurred. I explained his car had 300,000 miles on it and was over 10 years old. He originally bought it as a salvaged title for only $1700 nine years ago. We checked Kelly Blue Book online and found $750 was indeed the ballpark value. He said, "I had no car payment before, and now I'm going to have one!" He was very upset.
I explained that just because his car was a total loss, he doesn't get to buy a brand new car and have no payments as a result. I explained he would actually be in a better position than he was before the accident if the law was designed that way.
Some people believe the defendant (and his insurance company) should be punished for his/her actions. In other words, to "punish" the at-fault driver, the law should make him buy a new car for the victim. People are often surprised the law only provides for the reasonable value of their car on the date of the accident - NOT what you bought it for. If they have to go buy another old $750 car, so be it.
I have the same conversation with prospective clients on a regular basis. It goes something like this, "John, I know they are only offering you $1000 but your car was 100 years old and was barely functional. It had over 200,000 miles on it! The insurance company is NOT going to give you $15,000 to go buy a new car if your car was only worth $1000! If they did that, then EVERYONE and their brother would go get into an accident with the hopes of getting a new car!" As for car payments, that's just a reality of life if you finance any car. If you take the $1000 offer and you go buy a $25,000 car, you are going to have a car payment. There is no way around it."
After the clients realize the law doesn't provide them with a new car, then they get upset. I wish I had great news, but the truth is that accidents are unfortunate events. I don't have any clients who really "enjoyed" being involved in an accident. No one ever says, "Wow, that was a great experience. The insurance company gave me everything I want....including a new car even though I was driving an old clunker!" So here is the lesson, if you get into an accident, just realize you are only supposed to get the reasonable value of your car ON THE DATE OF THE ACCIDENT - not how much you bought it for years ago. Even then, they may lowball you. So do your research and find out what a fair offer is. They are NOT going to buy you a new car unless your car was new.
Robert Mansour used to work for the insurance companies as a defense lawyer. Now he represents victims of serious accidents. He serves Santa Clarita, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon Country, Castaic, Newshall, and surrounding areas. Call (661) 414-7100 for a free consultation.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,