Articles Posted in Automobile Wrecks

7493614_sIf you are injured in an accident such as an automobile wreck and are treated at a local hospital emergency room, it is likely that you may get a notice of a “hospital lien” from the hospital or a company representing the hospital.   Pursuant to Alabama Code Section 35-11-370, a hospital shall have a lien for the reasonable charges for hospital care of an injured person who entered the hospital within a week of receiving such injuries.  The lien does not attach to a person’s real property (land) or personal property (belongings).  Instead, a hospital lien attaches to any action, claim, settlement or judgment against any person or entity whose acts or omissions caused the injuries requiring hospital care.

Although the hospital or its representative will often file the lien in the probate court in the county where the accident occurred, the Alabama Supreme Court has held that a lien does not have to be filed in probate court to be valid.  In Guin v Caraway Methodist Medical Center, the court concluded that a hospital lien arises “automatically” in the event someone suffers injuries and receives treatment at a hospital when there is another person or entity responsible.   In most instances, a personal injury attorney or an insurance adjuster that handles claims will determine whether a lien will impact a claim.

Typically, a hospital will assert a lien in any situation where a person is transported to the hospital emergency room by an emergency medical service such as ambulance or helicopter.   This type of lien is only available to hospitals.  Doctors, chiropractors or other healthcare providers cannot assert a lien against a settlement or judgment unless the injured party executes a document giving them rights to the proceeds.

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One summer Saturday night in Huntsville, Alabama, Bob and Ruth climb in Bobs’ car for a friendly drive to the movies.  Unfortunately, Ruth’s life soon changed forever when Bob runs a red light and his car is hit broadside by a pickup truck. Ruth suffers severe injuries from the automobile wreck.  She endures tremendous pain and suffering and mental anguish.  Her injuries are permanent.

To add insult to injury, when Ruth makes a claim against Bob’s automobile insurance company for the injuries she sustained in the wreck, they inform her that she is not entitled to recover under Alabama law because she was a “guest” in Bob’s vehicle.

The Alabama Guest Statute  prohibits a “guest” from bringing an action against a driver unless the driver is found to have willfully or recklessly operated a motor vehicle to the detriment of the “guest.”  The guest statute applies in situations where the injured person was riding as “a guest while being transported without payment.”  “Payment” does not necessarily mean cash for transportation as one would pay for a taxi ride.  “Payment” could be in the form of some material and tangible benefit to the driver from the transportation or the transportation must be of mutual benefit to both parties.

Although the Guest Statute typically prevents any claim against the driver of a motor vehicle for injuries sustained by a guest, damages may be recovered by a guest if the injuries are caused by the willful or reckless misconduct of the driver.  Typically, we are able to prove willful or reckless misconduct when there is evidence that the driver was operating his vehicle at an unsafe speed, was driving erratically, driving under the influence or was distracted while using a cell phone or texting.

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Car insurance puzzle

We recently prosecuted a horrific case involving personal injuries and multiple wrongful deaths from an automobile accident. Unfortunately, the responsible driver only carried the minimum limits of coverage. This is a problem that we see too often. Fortunately we were able to make claims with our client’s insurance carriers for Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist Coverage and Medical Payments Coverage.

Underinsured Motorist coverage is insurance you can purchase from your agent to protect you and persons riding in your vehicle in the event you are injured by a negligent driver who does not have enough coverage to compensate you for your injuries. This coverage is so important that Alabama law requires insurance agents to offer it to customers. This coverage can be waived, but it is not a good idea to decline this coverage. In fact, we recommend that you increase this coverage to the maximum that you can afford. Underinsured Motorist Coverage will pay for personal injury and lost wages if the responsible driver does not have enough coverage. Uninsured Motorist Coverage works in a similar manner and will come into play when the other party does not have any liability insurance.

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