Receiving a personal injury settlement after a lawsuit may seem like the end of a long-fought journey, but in some cases, it may actually be the beginning of a new set of concerns and issues. It's important to remember that any judgment you will be awarded is also meant to cover your medical bills and, possibly, your attorneys' fees. But this is not always as cut and dried as it sounds. For example, some medical care facilities may go after part of your settlement to compensate themselves for the difference between your actual bill and what your insurance company was willing to pay. And did you know that the state of your marriage could also possibly end up affecting how much of your personal injury settlement you can actually keep for yourself?
It's possible that a medical provider may come after part of your settlement even if you believe that you and your insurance company have already paid all of your bills. This may sound outrageous. But in the eyes of some hospitals, they did not receive everything they believed they were entitled to. Here is why:
- You receive treatment in a hospital for a service that the hospital says is worth, say, $500.
- Your insurance company has a contract with the hospital that says its charges will be capped at $300.
- You pay your deductible of, say, $30.
- That leaves $170 that the hospital won't be paid for.
In some cases, hospitals and medical providers will try to get that difference from your personal injury settlement. This practice is called balance billing. If you are suddenly hit with bills against your settlement, speak to your attorney before paying them. In some states, the practice of balance billing is illegal. And in some cases, your attorney may be able to prove that the hospital is seriously overcharging you for services or even charging you for care that it did not perform.
Another way hospitals try to take money from your settlement is by refusing to accept your health insurance. In 2014, St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, agreed to stop this practice. Over the past few years, it had refused the health insurance of 930 patients in order to collect higher payment from their car insurance settlements. It is, unfortunately, not the only hospital to have engaged in this practice. At least three other hospitals in Missouri were doing the same thing.
Divorce and Your Possible Personal Injury Settlement
It is important to inform your personal injury lawyer that you are currently having marital difficulties and discuss ways to protect your possible settlement if you were to get divorced. Unfortunately, each state handles the splitting (or nonsplitting) of a personal injury settlement differently. For example, depending on the state you live in, your settlement may be considered one of the following:
- Sole property. In some states, your personal injury settlement is considered your sole property. You were the one who was injured. It was your pain and suffering and not your spouse's. So you won't have to worry about it being divided as part of a property settlement during a divorce.
- Community property. Other states consider the personal injury as community property because your spouse also suffered because of your injury, either financially, physically, or mentally.
And it's also possible that some courts may decide that certain assets of your personal injury lawsuit are community, while others belong solely to you, as the injured property. According to the Huffington Post, you may also want to consider opening a separate bank account for your personal injury settlement if you are having marital difficulties. That way you can keep your funds from comingling with marital funds until you come to a property settlement agreement with your spouse.
Winning a personal injury settlement can be the answer to a lot of your prayers. But if you are not careful, you could lose a chunk of your well-deserved money. So make sure and talk to your lawyer about the best ways to protect your settlement if you are fortunate enough to be awarded one. Find a personal injury lawyer through a firm like Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.