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How Child Injury Settlements Account for Medical Bills—Past, Present, and Future

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When your child gets victimized by a serious accident, paying the medial bills may initially be one of your least concerns. But it’s got to be dealt with eventually, and the financial consequences to parents can be crushing.

Here’s a free tip that may relieve pressure: to pay those bills, use your own health insurance, or Medicaid if your child is on it,

And luckily for parents, children’s settlements do have to account for those medical bill payments. That can be really tricky in a serious injury case, especially when your child will need treatment even into adulthood.

Luckily, our Supreme Court recently gave guidance how to handle children’s medical bills in a case called Patton v. Miller, released July 26, 2017. That case involved a medical malpractice lawsuit where the parents of a child alleged she’d need medical treatment for life. The Court had to decide who should get settlements for medical care while the victim remained a child and future care after the victim became an adult at 18.

The Court observed these medical expenses fall into three categories:

  • Past medical bills for the child,
  • Future medical bills incurred by the child before age 18, and
  • Future medical bills incurred after the child reaches adulthood.

Here’s how the Court said these should be handled in settlement. Some of the rulings may surprise you.

Parents Can Recover For Medical Bills Already Paid—Even If They Didn’t Actually Pay Them!

Parents can bring a claim to personally recover medical bills that have already been paid.

This applies even if the parent didn’t actually pay the expenses, as when Medicaid or health insurance did, which is exactly how you should pay for accident injuries, if you can. This is due to South Carolina’s “collateral source rule,” which makes health insurance payments inadmissible in injury cases. The philosophy behind this is that wrongdoers don’t (and shouldn’t) get a discount for a parent’s good sense or good fortune to have coverage for medical bills created by a wrongdoer’s unsafe choice.

But it’s not “free money” for parents. The ruling observes the reality that parents are “almost certainly under a legal duty to reimburse the actual payer for at least part of the recovery.” Why? Both federal and state law give Medicaid an automatic right to be repaid, called subrogation. Private health insurance policies usually carry the same the same right, which is another reason to hire a sharp attorney to help your child’s case. If you’ve got private health coverage, never assume it must be repaid, because it might not. A good injury attorney will know how to find out.

And if you’ve got to undergo subrogation, an experienced injury attorney will know how to handle that headache for you, and give you a shot at a discount—which helps you in the long run.

Parents Can Recover for Future Medical Bills Before A Child Turns 18, But There’s a Catch

Under South Carolina law, parental responsibilities include the legal obligation to pay your child's medical expenses. The court ruled that obligation gives parents the right to recover for those expenses.

Here’s the catch. If parents recover for a child's future medical expenses above a minimal amount, the funds must be paid to a conservator until the child turns eighteen. A conservator is a court-appointed representative who oversees settlement money to make sure it’s used properly. For bills incurred while your child is under 18, the conservator has a legal obligation to pay them.

Because the conservator usually isn’t appointed until settlement, the parent still brings the case.

Parents Make the Claim for Bills Incurred After Age 18

This brings up an important question we can help you with: How do you figure out the cost of future medical care anyway?

When your child reaches age 18, a provider can legally seek payment from your child herself. Because your child will be obligated to pay, she owns the right to recover her future adult medical care.

But you as parents make the claim on behalf of your child, because she’s currently under 18.

Yes, This Is Complicated, and You Owe It to Your Child to Get It Done Right

If your child has been seriously hurt in an accident, you’ll be surrounded by professionals—some good, some not. Obviously, the doctors are there to reclaim your child’s health, which is the most important thing.

But you’ve got some people working against you, too—an insurance company for the wrongdoer who wants to save as much money as possible to keep profits high by shortchanging you and your child. And they know you’re already overwhelmed, and they aren’t afraid to take advantage of that.

When it comes to your child’s legal rights—and your legal responsibilities as a parent—don’t be the only amateur in a sea of professionals. Hire an experienced personal injury attorney to help you through the situation, answer your questions, and make sure your child’s settlement is maximized and your family’s rights are protected. You’ve likely got to go court to get it approved anyway, and that's not easy, so you might as well get someone on your side whose life’s work is protecting people like you in court.

Send us an email right where you are or schedule a free, no-obligation strategy session with us to help you get your child on the road to legal recovery.

 

Rob Usry
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Rob is a South Carolina personal injury and criminal defense lawyer.
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