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Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Hospital Lien Arising from Car Accident Injuries

medical-doctor-1314902-mCar accidents have the potential to cause serious injuries to the parties involved. In some cases, the injured victim must seek treatment at a local area hospital. Sometimes the injuries are extremely serious, requiring the victim to endure a prolonged stay at a hospital. While such continuous care may be necessary, it can also be very costly. Fortunately, many people have health insurance or some other kind of reimbursement plan to help pay for emergency care. But there are some costs that a health plan may not cover. For this reason, hospitals often must file a lien against the patient’s cause of action (essentially, against the “tortfeasor” for causing the patient’s injuries) in order to recover the costs of treating the patient. There are local laws governing this process as well as many others that pertain to personal injury and negligence lawsuits. If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to recover for any pain and suffering or other losses. You are encouraged to contact an experienced injury attorney from the local Atlanta area as soon as possible.

In a recent case, Kight v. MCG Health, Inc. (Sup. Ct. of Ga. 2015), the plaintiff sustained injuries in a car accident with an allegedly intoxicated driver. He sought treatment at MCG Health, an area hospital. The plaintiff had a managed health care insurance plan with Blue Cross/Blue Shield (“Blue Cross”). According to the court record, the plaintiff’s care for the injuries he sustained in the car accident was covered under a contract between the hospital and Blue Cross. Under the contract, the hospital was permitted to bill the plaintiff directly for any co-pays or deductibles that he owed. In 2007, the hospital filed a $36,000 lien against the plaintiff’s cause of action under the Georgia State Code, Section 44-14-470.

While the hospital received compensation from the insurance company for a majority of the charges, the court of appeals found that the hospital was still owed various deductibles and co-pays amounting to $186.48. The plaintiff continued to receive care, increasing the total amount to $863.10 in deductibles and co-pays. The hospital amended the lien to reflect the updated amount due. The hospital lien statute, referenced above, essentially permits the hospital to “step into the shoes of the insured” in order to receive payment from the “tortfeasor’s” insurance company. In this case, the court of appeals found that the trial court erred in finding the lien to be invalid by concluding that there was no debt owed at the time the lien was filed.

The plaintiff appealed.  The highest court in the state rejected the plaintiff’s argument and concluded that the hospital was in fact owed money on the date the lien was filed. The court also found that the contract between the hospital and Blue Cross expressly reserved the hospital’s right to collect co-pays and deductibles directly from the plaintiff. Finally, the court concluded that there was no language in the statute imposing a requirement that the hospital’s lien be exact on the date that it was filed.

This case nicely illustrates the complicated legal rules affecting personal injury cases arising from a car accident. For a clear understanding of the laws that could affect your right to a recovery, it is essential that you contact an injury attorney with a great deal of experience handling car accident claims.  Stephen M. Ozcomert is an injury lawyer with over 20 years of experience representing injured parties in car accident cases in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404)-370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.

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