What’s the greatest worry after a serious auto accident?
You might think it would be a grave and momentous question, such as Am I going to live? or Will I ever walk again? In fact, those enormous (and tragic) questions are issues for only a very few auto collision victims.
The most common concern is probably How will my medical bills be paid? A lot of people live pretty much paycheck-to-paycheck. They recognize that a single unexpected emergency—such as the cost of an ambulance ride and two days in the hospital—may be financially devastating for their family budget for years to come. Getting assurance that medical expenses will be paid after a Dauphin County traffic accident can lift an enormous burden of worry for a hospital patient.
There is no single answer to the question of who pays the bills. Everything depends on the system of insurance the injured person has in place the moment the accident occurs and the unique circumstances of the incident.
A Cascading List of Responsibilities
Imagine that you have suffered a significant (but not life-threatening) injury in a car accident. If you are like most people, there are four possible sources of money that might cover your medical expenses. Circumstances will determine which of those sources has to pick up the check. Those sources are:
- Your own savings. Your medical bills would be considered “out-of-pocket” costs.
- Your medical insurance. Whether you have medical coverage through your job, from an individual medical policy, or through a government program such as Medicare, you will typically have to pay the first several hundred dollars out of pocket—this is the deductible amount—and then a co-payment equal to 20 percent of all other charges.
- Your car owner’s insurance. In Pennsylvania, auto owners must carry at least $5,000 in coverage for first-party medical benefits; you may have even more coverage.
- The other driver’s liability insurance, if that driver caused your accident. All drivers must purchase liability insurance worth at least $15,000 for one individual and $30,000 for all individuals hurt in an accident.
Your car owners’ insurance usually has the top priority for paying your medical bills after a traffic accident. That insurance may even protect you if you are injured as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, or if you have been hurt as a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle. The good news is that auto insurance doesn’t have co-pays or deductibles, so it can cover 100 percent of your accident costs. The bad news is that auto insurance can be slow to pay medical bills because the insurance adjuster will prefer to wait until your treatment is complete, so the total cost is known.
When Auto Insurance Is Slow—or to Little—to Pay
Often, when the bills start piling up and your auto insurance shows no hurry to pay them, you will get anxious. It’s at that point your medical insurance may offer to pay the outstanding bills. If you agree, you would have to pay the usual co-payments and deductible amounts immediately, and you would be required to reimburse your health insurance carrier when your car insurance settlement check comes. This process of paying back one insurer when another one offers a check is called subrogation, and many of our clients find it tremendously frustrating.
Finally, if your own car owner’s insurance does not offer enough money to cover all your medical expenses, you may seek further compensation from the other driver’s liability insurance. The amount you can recoup here depends on who was at fault in the accident; whether the rules of full tort or limited tort coverage apply; and if you have purchased uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Managing insurance obligations after a Pennsylvania auto accident isn’t an easy task. Often, you will have to threaten legal action to recover the full and fair amount owed. That’s where Schmidt Kramer’s auto accident attorneys in Harrisburg can become a vital resource. We’re ready to answer your questions and, if necessary, pursue your claim over the opposition of the insurance company. To schedule a free, confidential case review, call us at 717-888-8888 or (888) 476-0807 toll-free. You can also request free copies of our helpful and informative reports, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured in an Automobile Accident? and Navigating the Subrogation Nightmare: What to Do When the Insurance Company Says You Have to Pay Them Back.