California Medical Lien Law & Common Questions Asked

medical liens california

If you’re injured because of someone’s negligence, you may be wondering how you will pay your medical bills. Whether you were injured in a car accident or by a defective product, you should seek medical care right away. If another person or a company is responsible for your injuries, you may have the right to have the bill paid from your judgment or settlement. This method of deferred payment is known as a medical lien in California. There are two forms of medical liens in California: statutory liens and contractual liens. If you’re unsure whether you’ll need a medical lien, consider consulting an experienced personal injury attorney to explain your options.

What Are Statutory Medical Liens in California?

California medical lien law allows hospitals and Medicare to place a medical lien. With a medical lien, the provider or payer will recover the costs from the liable third party rather than insisting on payment upfront. California enacted medical lien laws so you can obtain emergency care after an accident without worrying about costs. For a hospital lien to be effective, the hospital must provide written notice of the charges to the liable party. Then, the hospital has one year from when you receive compensation to recover the cost of the medical care.

If the state’s Medicare program pays, the hospital has the right to recoup the costs through a Medi-Cal lien in California. When Medi-Cal places a lien for the costs of your injuries, the California Department of Health Care Services may file a lawsuit against the liable party on your behalf. Whether you or Medi-Cal receives a judgment, the Medi-Cal program will receive a portion of your award to cover its costs.

How Can I Negotiate a Contractual California Medical Lien?

You may negotiate a contractual medical lien if you need medical care outside of a hospital or health facility. A contractual medical lien is a contract between you and your provider to pay their bill from your judgment or settlement amount. You and your provider can freely negotiate the terms. Standard terms to include in such a contract include:

  • Priority of payment once you receive a settlement or judgment;
  • How the doctor will be paid if you do not win your case or if your award does not cover the total amount; and
  • How you will handle disputes.

Doctors will often have standard terms. However, hiring a lawyer to help draft the medical lien can help you obtain favorable terms and avoid unwanted outcomes. To use a medical lien, you may need to shop for a doctor who will accept this form of “credit.” Your personal injury attorney can help with this process.

What Is the California Medical Lien Statute of Limitations?

California has a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury cases. You have two years from an injury to file a lawsuit against the liable party. The statute of limitations for medical liens varies slightly depending on the type of lien. As noted above, once you receive a judgment or settlement, a hospital has one year to enforce its lien. If Medi-Cal places a lien, it has three years to file a lawsuit against the liable third party. With a contractual medical lien, the provider has four years from the date you fail to pay under the contract. If your agreement specifies that the amount is placed in trust for the provider, there is no statute of limitations, and the provider can sue for recovery at any time.

Is It a Good Idea to Hire a Doctor on a Lien Basis in California?

A medical lien should be used as a last resort if you cannot pay your deductible or do not have insurance. Often, your insurance company has negotiated a lower rate than you would pay with a lien. If you do not have insurance, a hospital or Medi-Cal can automatically place a lien on your judgment. However, with contractual liens, you can negotiate the terms with your provider. Although you may need to search for a provider who will agree to a medical lien, it is one way to get the medical care you need while waiting for a judgment or settlement payment. If you sign the contractual agreement before the hospital or Medi-Cal places its lien, you must pay the contractual lien first. Nonetheless, you must remember to pay all medical liens from your settlement or judgment before taking any amount home.

What if I Don’t Win My Case?

Occasionally you won’t win a lawsuit, or your award won’t be enough to cover the amount of the lien. In that case, you will be responsible for paying the remaining amount. However, medical providers are often willing to work out a payment plan rather than suing patients for repayment. An experienced attorney can help negotiate favorable payment terms so that the doctor will get paid and you’ll have some compensation left over for your ongoing care.

How Can Saeedian Law Group Help with My Medical Lien in California?

Once you seek emergency care after an injury, your next call should be to an experienced personal injury attorney. Your attorney will listen to your situation and guide you on your options for paying your medical bills. If someone else injured you, you deserve for them to pay the bills you incurred from their negligence. An attorney can negotiate with the liable third party or their insurance company so they’ll cover your medical care. If they don’t negotiate, your attorney will know when to bring your case to a jury. Meanwhile, your attorney can help you negotiate contractual liens with individual providers. They’ll also ensure that the hospital and Medi-Cal place their liens equitably. 

At Saeedian Law Group, our attorneys have successfully guided thousands of injured clients and recovered millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements. We have the skill and experience to negotiate with medical providers and insurance companies to maximize the recovery you can receive. You shouldn’t worry about medical debt after an accident—let your attorney handle the legal details while you focus on healing. Contact us for a free consultation if you have been injured in an accident and are wondering how to pay your medical bills.