• Last month’s article focused on the question of “Who pays for records, reports, deposition or trial testimony time: patient or attorney?” We answered that question in light of a recent Court of Appeals decision ruling: a law firm requesting such services from an expert was liable for the expert’s fee absent an express disclaimer of responsibility.

    This month we address the issue of who pays for the patient’s health care treatment costs once a personal injury case has settled.

    In the personal injury context, the injured party may have exhausted their insurance coverage or may have no coverage at all. In this situation, a lawyer representing an injured person may be requested by the health care provider to guarantee payment of the provider’s bill from the proceeds of any settlement as a condition of the injured person receiving continued treatment or care.

    Generally speaking, all health care treatment costs are the obligation of the patient, not the attorney. However, a very recent opinion from the Washington State Bar Association, Opinion Number 185, published on April 26, 1990, states that if the patient/client has payment of his/her bill from the proceeds of a settlement or judgment, then the client/patient is no longer entitled to those funds. The funds must be forwarded to the health care provider unless there is a “good faith dispute as to the amount to be paid”. The Bar Association’s opinion further provides:

    Failure by the lawyer to honor a guarantee or lien the lawyer has signed or agreed to in connection with representation of a client would violate [the] Rules of Professional Conduct.

    In light of this opinion, I would recommend that all health care providers who are deferring payment on an injured person’s health care bill obtain a signed authorization by the injured patient guaranteeing that their bill will be satisfied from the proceeds of the settlement or judgment. Also, you should then submit this signed authorization to the attorney for signature as well. I have enclosed a sample form for your use which will provide greater protection to ensure that your bill for professional services will be paid.

    Please feel free to contact us as legal questions arise. Our consultations with you or your patient are at no cost.

    Very truly yours,

    Richard H. Adler
    Attorney at Law


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