A lot of times it is easier as an attorney to obtain a personal injury or medical malpractice settlement from a defendant or an insurance company that it is to actually give that money to a client. One of the most common hurdles that an attorney and his client has to jump over is the payment of any valid liens. Essentially a lien is a claim by another person or company for some or all of the money that an injured person recovers in settlement or judgment of a personal injury or medical malpractice laws. Common liens are ones by Medicare, Medicaid, Teachers’ and State Employees’ Health Plans, ERISA, and Worker’s Compensation. One of the oldest and most common of the liens that can attach are those for medical providers. N.C.G.S 44-49 and N.C.G.S. 44-50 allow any person or company who provides drugs, medical supplies, ambulance services, physician, dentist, nurse or hospital services to claim a lien. In order to have a valid lien (or “perfect” the lien), the medical provider must furnish medical records upon request without charge. A provider is allowed to charge for copies of medical records under N.C.G.S. 90-410 and N.C.G.S. 90-411, but if it does so, it cannot have a lien on its bills for services. The lien rights are waived even if the bill for the copies is never paid or if the medical provider takes back the copying charges before they are paid. In addition, the provider must provide copies of the medical bills without charge. Further, the provider must give written notice saying that they are claiming a lien. That notice must be sent to the attorney for the injured person. Finally, the lien can only be valid if the medical treatment claimed is related to injuries that is part of the settlement or judgment. If the medical charges are for a condition that has nothing to do with the conditions at issue in a lawsuit, the provider can’t get a lien on those funds.
So when considering a settlement for a lawsuit, always determine what liens are outstanding and what you will be required to pay out of any settlement.
--Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC with Hodges & Coxe PC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Homeowner's Associations, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.