Being in an accident — whether a car or truck accident or a slip at work or while out shopping for groceries — can cause severe injuries, ranging from broken bones and head injuries to permanent spinal damage. There’s no denying the potentially catastrophic impact of an accident, but it can also have huge financial consequences.
Just as you’re coming to terms with your painful injuries and dealing with the shock, you might be hit with hefty medical bills. On top of that, many victims of accidents are left unable to work for weeks, months, or ever again. Some people’s injuries aren’t so severe that they can’t work again, but they have to seek another job because their injuries prevent them from fulfilling certain responsibilities.
If you’re struggling to provide for your family while you can’t work, having to pay for your medical treatment can add unwanted stress at the worst possible time. We look at several ways to pay for your medical bills after an accident — including considering if it’s even your responsibility.
Why It’s Important to Seek Medical Treatment after an Accident
If you have a minor accident — such as tripping and spraining your wrist or ankle — you might wonder if it’s even worth getting checked out. After all, you can treat a sprain with a bit of rest and ice, so why waste money on a doctor’s visit?
Unfortunately, many people think just that and fail to seek treatment — and it can result in even more significant costs.
Visiting a doctor is vital if you feel you aren’t responsible for your accident and want to seek compensation. Without medical records proving that you sought medical attention after your accident, the party at fault may claim your injuries happened later and weren’t caused by the accident, which could prevent you from getting any compensation.
But even if you can’t claim compensation, getting checked out is still crucial. What you think is a sprain could be a break that leaves you with permanent weakness or pain. You might need physical therapy for months to help rebuild strength, which costs valuable money.
What you think is an unrelated headache a few days later could actually be a concussion — a mild traumatic brain injury. While it’s rare, a small number of people who have concussions develop blood clots, which can be life-threatening.
Do You Have to Pay Your Bills?
Depending on your situation, you may not even have to pay your medical bills.
If you have health insurance, make sure you check your policy. You may be able to claim the immediate costs of your medical treatment. If the accident wasn’t your fault, your insurance provider may pay your medical bills out of pocket and recover the costs from the other party’s insurance company — known as insurance subrogation. If you’re not sure you qualify, speak to your insurance company.
If a car accident caused your injuries, another option is to check your auto insurance policy. Your policy may include a product called personal injury protection (PIP). This is included by default, so unless you explicitly stated in writing that you did not want PIP when taking out insurance, you’ll likely have it. Personal injury protection can cover your medical expenses and may be more comprehensive than any health insurance plan you have, as not all health policies cover severe injuries. The additional benefit of PIP is that you can also recover a percentage of lost income due to your injuries.
Most states in the US are “fault states.” In fault states, drivers must carry liability insurance to cover another driver’s medical costs after an accident. If you live in one of these states, you can claim the cost of your medical treatment from the at-fault driver.
If you’re in one of the twelve no-fault states — including Florida, Massachusetts, and New York — drivers must carry PIP insurance to cover their medical bills and cannot claim from the other party.
Can You File a Personal Injury Claim?
Another way to pay for your medical bills is to file a personal injury claim. Whether you can file a claim — and successfully recover compensation — depends on several factors. The first is who’s liable (or at fault) and if you contributed to the cause of your accident.
To file a personal injury claim, the plaintiff (the person who is filing the claim) must prove four elements:
- That another party owed a legal duty to the plaintiff (this could be a duty to drive safely and follow traffic laws on the road or a duty to keep an environment safe by setting out appropriate signs and cordoning off hazardous areas)
- That the party breached that legal duty by acting negligently or recklessly
- That the negligence or recklessness caused the victim’s injuries
- That the plaintiff’s injuries constitute damages (including physical pain and mental anguish as well as financial damages, such as medical expenses or lost wages).
Whether you can claim you are partly responsible for your accident depends on the negligence laws in your state. In most states, contributing to the accident doesn’t immediately bar you from claiming. Just three states have what is called contributory negligence, which prevents you from claiming if you are even 1% at fault.
The remaining states have comparative negligence laws, which allow you to pursue compensation if you are responsible. In some states, you can claim even if you were majorly at fault. In others, you can only claim if your fault falls below a specific percentage.
For example, if you were hit by a car while crossing the road, but you did so negligently (for example, by failing to check for oncoming traffic or darting across the road without waiting for a stoplight), you may still be able to recover damages even though the accident could have been avoided if you checked the road was safe to cross.
If you meet the criteria to file a claim, you must have evidence to meet the burden of proof. This is why it’s important to seek medical treatment and retain records of your injuries and the cost of treatment. These should include emergency room bills, surgery costs, transportation to and from the hospital or doctor’s office, and fees for medication and other treatment (such as physiotherapy or follow-up appointments).
As part of your claim, you can seek to recover both your past and future medical expenses, which can also include costs associated with managing a permanent condition.
If you choose to pursue a personal injury claim, it’s vital to speak to a personal injury lawyer. Working with a lawyer gives you the best possible chance of receiving all the compensation you’re entitled to. They can also delay payment of your medical bills and arrange treatment for you to alleviate your financial burden.
An accident can cause severe injuries and leave you facing thousands of dollars worth of medical fees for ongoing treatment and rehabilitation. Now you know how you can cover both your short-term bills and long-term expenses, you can focus on the most important thing — your recovery.