If 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.