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Dealing With Hospital Bills Following a Car Accident

Paying for medical care is a major issue for many Tennessee families. This is especially true following a car accident where you may suffer serious injuries that require surgery and ongoing medical treatment. If you do not have medical insurance, you may end up owing thousands of dollars in medical bills due to someone else’s negligence.

Tennessee Court Holds Accident Victims May Seek Full Billed Amount for Medical Care

Even if you do have insurance, there can still be billing issues that need to be addressed in the context of a personal injury lawsuit. For example, medical providers typically bill patients a “retail” price while discounting the actual amount charged to the patient’s insurance company. Some insurance companies in Tennessee tried to have both ways: They would accept the discounted amount from the insurer, then file a hospital lien for the “full” price against any potential personal injury judgment the patient might win.

In 2014, the Tennessee Supreme Court put a stop to this practice. The court held that once a hospital accepted payment from an insurance company, that constituted the “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses recoverable under the state’s hospital lien statute. This still left open the question of whether the patient could recover the full amount of a hospital bill in a personal injury lawsuit.

On June 2, the Tennessee Court of Appeals attempted to answer this question. This case involves an ongoing personal injury lawsuit. The plaintiffs, a husband and wife, sued the defendant to recover damages for injuries sustained by the wife in a car accident. The wife has claimed medical bills of approximately $52,000 in connection with her injuries. In response, the defendant argued the plaintiffs’ insurance company only paid about $18,000 to “satisfy” the wife’s medical bills.

As with hospital liens, in a personal injury lawsuit Tennessee permits recovery of “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses from a liable defendant. The defendant here argued the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision should apply, thereby limiting the plaintiffs’ potential recovery for medical expenses to the $18,000 figure, not the $52,000 figure. The plaintiffs maintained the Supreme Court’s decision applied only to hospital liens and not personal injury judgments.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the plaintiff. The court noted that Tennessee’s trial courts have split nearly evenly on this issue. But the appeals court concluded the Supreme Court’s opinion was carefully worded to only define “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses in the context of hospital liens. Indeed, in a footnote to the 2014 decision, the Supreme Court noted its decision did not apply to “hospital liens filed against patients who are TennCare enrollees.” From this, the Court of Appeals reasoned the Supreme Court “did not intend for its opinion to be binding as to all determinations of reasonable medical expenses under Tennessee law.” That said, the Court of Appeals noted the Supreme Court might ultimately decide to extend its 2014 ruling to the facts of the present case. But until that occurs, the appeals court is obligated by existing case law to allow the plaintiffs here to seek the full, billed amount of the wife’s medical care from the defendant.

A Tennessee Car Accident Attorney Can Help

The Court of Appeals’ decision is nonetheless good news for accident victims who face exorbitant medical bills. If you have been in an accident, it is important to work with an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer who is current on the state of the law and how it may apply to your case. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, to speak with someone right away.

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