Car accidents occur in seconds, but their effects can last for years. For many Americans, medical expenses constitute one of the most significant impacts of getting hurt in a crash. Long after they’ve healed from their trauma, the crushing burden of medical debt from an accident lives on. In the worst cases, crash victims and their families have no choice but to file for bankruptcy protection to escape it.
If you or someone you love suffered injuries in a car accident, someone else may have the obligation to pay the medical expenses you’ve incurred. Here’s an overview of who pays medical bills in a car accident, and how an experienced car accident lawyer can handle the process of getting you money to cover them.
Car Accident Medical Expenses by the Numbers
In a recent analysis, The Economic and Societal Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that accidents occurring over the course of just one year in the United States led to $30.1 billion in current and future medical costs. On average, medical expenses account for nearly one-fifth (18.3 percent) of the economic impact of nonfatal crashes, and for more than a third (37 percent) of the total costs borne by people who suffered the most critical nonfatal injuries.
Even minor crash injuries can lead to significant medical expenses. Medical care for injuries at the very lowest level of a standard injury-measurement scale cost victims, on average, more than $2,200 each, according to NHTSA.
For mildly injured victims, average medical costs exceeded $13,000. For moderate injuries, they ballooned to more than $69,000. For serious injuries, they were over $188,000. And for the most severe or critical trauma, crash victims could expect medical expenses, on average, to reach more than $360,000.
Those are eye-popping numbers. Few Americans have the financial resources to pay them out of their own pockets. But through insurance coverage and lawsuits, they may not have to, if they have a skilled lawyer in their corner.
Insurance That May Cover Car Accident Medical Bills
Many Americans can turn to insurance to pay at least some of their medical bills after a car accident. Various types of insurance may cover the cost of car accident-related medical care.
But they tend to fall into two general categories:
- Insurance you purchased or that someone purchased for your benefit that covers medical expenses arising from a car accident.
- Liability insurance purchased by a party who owes you compensation for the damages you suffered because of the accident, which typically include medical expenses.
Here’s an overview of some common types of insurance that fall into these categories and which may pay for your medical bills after a car accident.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) Insurance
If you own a car (or have a family member who does), chances are that you carry auto insurance. Depending on where you live, you may have had either the option or the legal obligation to purchase personal injury protection (PIP) insurance as part of your coverage.
PIP, also known as no-fault insurance, covers you for your own medical expenses and lost earnings resulting from a traffic accident, regardless of who was at fault for the crash. It also covers your passengers (if they don’t have PIP of their own), and it covers you if you get hit by a car while walking or riding a bike.
PIP typically covers your medical expenses up to a fixed limit. Medical expenses beyond that limit are your responsibility to pay unless you carry other insurance that covers them or have the right to claim compensation from someone else.
Med Pay Insurance
Med Pay insurance is similar to PIP, in that it’s a type of no-fault insurance that you can purchase to cover your own medical expenses in a crash. But unlike PIP, Med Pay only covers your medical costs. It does not pay the other expenses and financial losses that PIP typically covers.
Health insurance you receive through work, purchase on an exchange (a.k.a. Obamacare), or get through Medicare or Medicaid may cover the costs of your medical care after getting hurt in a car accident. Health insurance may also serve as a secondary form of insurance to cover medical expenses that exceed the limits of any PIP or Med Pay insurance you carry.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
If you sustained car accident injuries while doing your job, workers’ compensation insurance purchased by your employer may cover your medical costs. Workers’ comp generally covers all medical expenses for injuries suffered at work or while doing work-related duties. Depending on the laws of the state where you live, to ensure coverage you may have to inform your employer of your work-related car accident promptly and seek care from an authorized medical provider.
Auto Liability Insurance
If your car accident happened because of someone’s careless or reckless driving, that person’s auto liability insurance may serve to pay your medical bills. To obtain compensation from an at-fault motorist’s auto liability insurance, your lawyer must be able to prove to the driver’s insurance company or (if necessary) a court that the driver’s conduct breached a duty of care to you and caused the injuries for which you’ve needed medical treatment.
In states that require motorists to carry PIP insurance, you may only have the right to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver’s auto liability insurance if you suffered severe injuries and have already maxed-out your PIP coverage.
Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Insurance
Your own auto insurance may include uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage, which can serve to pay your medical bills in the event an at-fault driver does not carry any or enough auto liability coverage to meet your needs.
Proving a claim under your uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance generally entails demonstrating the at-fault driver’s liability and the inadequacy of their insurance to cover your damages. As above, your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage may serve as secondary insurance in states where you must first turn to your own PIP coverage to pay medical expenses.
General Liability Insurance
If your car accident happened because of the wrongful actions of someone other than an at-fault driver, that party’s general liability insurance may cover your medical expenses.
For example, most businesses carry commercial liability insurance to protect themselves against liability for the negligent actions of their employees. Similarly, individuals often carry homeowners or renters insurance that covers their liability for wrongful actions generally, which can include non-driving conduct that leads to a car accident. Obtaining this coverage entails proving liability and damages, similar to pursuing a claim against an at-fault driver.
What if there’s no insurance available?
It’s rare for a car accident to happen without at least some insurance being available to pay an injured crash victim’s medical expenses. But if it happens, you might still have the ability to get someone else to pay your bills. If the crash happened because of someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct, that person or business will generally have liability to you whether or not they carry insurance.
Sometimes, at-fault parties have assets that a lawyer can seize on your behalf through legal action. Be sure to speak with an experienced attorney about your car accident, even if you don’t think anyone carries insurance that might cover your medical bills.
The Process for Getting Your Medical Bills Paid
With the exception of health insurance and (in some cases) workers’ comp, you can’t expect anyone to pay your medical bills automatically after you get hurt in a car crash. Typically, you need to obtain that payment through some sort of legal process with the help of a skilled lawyer. Here’s an overview of how it generally works.
The first step in getting medical bills paid after a car accident is to ask the applicable insurer or liable party for payment.
Lawyers who represent car accident victims demand the money to pay their injured clients’ medical bills by, for example:
- Sending a letter to an at-fault party or that party’s attorney demanding payment
- Submitting a first-party claim to the victim’s own insurance company
- Submitting a third-party claim to an at-fault party’s liability insurance company
- Filing a lawsuit in court seeking damages from an at-fault party or insurer
Medical bills aren’t necessarily the only expenses you can ask someone to pay. Some insurance policies also cover a portion of your lost income. And if an at-fault party has liability for your car accident damages, you may also have the right to claim compensation from them for your lost earnings, out-of-pocket expenses, physical pain, emotional distress, and diminished quality of life.
Lawyers for car accident victims usually investigate the circumstances of a crash to identify all parties who may have liability for your damages, and to calculate the full amount of losses that you can claim. Medical bills can constitute a large portion of that total, but they’re rarely the only element of damages you have the right to recover.
The method a lawyer chooses for making a demand can vary based on your situation and priorities. A lawyer may advise taking an informal approach to start, or may recommend filing a lawsuit on Day One. A lawyer might also favor pursuing multiple strategies at the same time. The goal in all events is to get you the maximum payment possible, while serving your needs and interests.
Negotiating or Litigating
Unless the party or insurer agrees to pay your claim in full, a demand for payment usually leads to:
- Refusal to pay you anything
- An offer to pay some, but not all, of your claim
- A request for more information from you
Any of these responses will typically launch your lawyer and the opposing party into a process that can involve litigation (formal court procedures aimed at resolving your claim in court) and negotiation (informal discussions to resolve your claim out of court). Over the course of weeks, months, or (sometimes) a year or more, the parties may exchange information, ask a court to help resolve their differences, and discuss settling your claim.
While this process unfolds, a lawyer may also negotiate directly with your medical providers on your behalf. Often, a lawyer can convince medical billers to hold-off on trying to collect your medical debt until your claim for payment from an at-fault party or insurer has been resolved. Or, a lawyer might convince your own insurance company to pay your medical bills now, subject to your agreement to help them get reimbursement from someone else’s insurance coverage later (a process called subrogation). Always tell your lawyer about any immediate concerns you have about paying medical bills, so that the lawyer can explore your options.
Settling Your Claim or Going to Court
Most demands for an at-fault party or insurance company to pay your medical bills end in one of three ways:
- Settling the claim out of court
- Taking the claim to trial in court to be decided by a judge or jury
- Dropping the claim without payment
Obviously, your lawyer’s goal is to achieve payment of your medical bills and other damages through one of the first two of these outcomes. Settlement is the most common outcome of a car accident injury claim. In the typical settlement, the injured crash victim receives an agreed payment in exchange for releasing the paying parties from further liability.
Contact a Skilled Car Accident Attorney Today
Just because you receive medical bills after getting hurt in an accident, that doesn’t mean you’re the only person who might have the obligation to pay them. A skilled car accident attorney can handle the process of obtaining payment of your medical bills and other losses.
Most car accident lawyers work on contingency, meaning they cost nothing upfront to hire, and nothing at all unless they win for you. They also offer free, no-risk consultations for injured car accident victims like you. So don’t delay. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area today to learn about getting someone else to pay your crash-related medical bills.