I've seen this scenario play out too many times with my clients to not address this important question on our firm's blog. In fact, just today I spoke with a woman who, even though she had liability insurance, she had neither health insurance nor personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. She was injured in a collision in Vancouver, Washington several months ago. Then the insurance company for the driver who hit her told her it would not immediately cover her medical bills. Because she didn't have health insurance and she didn't have PIP insurance, she believed herself to be unable to get any medical treatment. Rather than call an attorney to discuss her rights and the options available to her, she waited for several months before calling someone to find out what to do. Best not to make this mistake.
First, it's worth correcting a common misunderstanding. Though the insurance company for the at-fault driver should eventually provide compensation for collision-related medical treatment, it will not provide such coverage at the time of the medical treatment (like a health insurance company). Rather, the at-fault party's insurance company will pay a lump sum of money in exchange for the accident victim's signature upon a release only when the claim is settled.
Though this situation does create some obstacles, and presents some challenges, a car accident victim in this scenario is not without options. Though each case is different and the recommendations and options discussed herein should not be taken as legal advice to a specific scenario, some options include:
- Make Sure You Don't Have PIP - Sometimes there is PIP coverage even if the accident victim's insurance company says there is not. This should be investigated.
- Letter of Protection - Some medical providers (especially chiropractors and some physical therapy offices), will provide medical treatment under what is called a “letter of protection”. This is essentially a promise by the patient/accident victim to the medical provider, to pay for the cost of medical treatment when they settle the case with the at-fault driver's insurance company. Though this option it is usually not advisable, sometimes it's necessary. You should consult an attorney before entering in to such an agreement.
- Obtain Health Insurance – It may be worth determining your eligibility for any public or private health insurance.
- Just Get the Treatment – Like with letters of protection, this is sometimes necessary. Whether your injuries are severe and life-threatening, or merely debilitating and painful, sometimes it's necessary to incur the expense of medical treatment even in the absence of a way to pay for it. Doing so can result in a significant impact on your claim, but as I usually tell my clients, your health is the most important thing in deciding how to proceed on a personal injury claim.
There is not always a simple solution to this problem. Indeed, it's usually a complex legal issue that requires both individual input from the accident victim and their medical providers as well as personalized advice from the personal injury attorney. Only then can one be sure of the best course of action for themselves and their situation.
In closing, as I write this post I am reminded of how important it is to prevent this scenario from happening. You can do this by making sure your policy includes adequate PIP and UIM coverage in addition to the required liability coverage, and that you have health insurance whenever possible.