When the shock of a car accident wears off, one of the first thoughts to cross the victim’s mind is often the financial repercussions of the accident. Who will pay for the ambulance ride, hospital stay, and rehabilitation? Who will pay to repair or replace your vehicle? If you have to miss work due to your injuries, who will compensate you for your time out of work?
Given that there are an estimated 155 injuries each day due to car accidents in Arizona, these are important questions that affect many Arizonans. They’re unfortunately quite expensive matters, too. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s 2016 Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report, a car accident with possible injuries that require evaluation at a hospital costs an average of $42,000. The stakes are even higher for more serious injuries, with a non-incapacitating injury costing about $80,000, and the average incapacitating injury costing a jaw-dropping $400,000.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, it’s important to understand what your health insurance will cover, what the auto insurance agencies will cover, and which bills you’re responsible for paying until your claim is finalized. It also helps to know what your options are to ensure you receive the damages and rightful compensation that you’re owed, as insurance companies have plenty of incentives to pay you as little as they can get away with.
Emergency medical transportation
Whether you are transported to the hospital by ambulance or helicopter, emergency medical transportation should be covered by your health insurance provider. Every health insurance plan is different, so you’ll need to consult your plan documents to understand your coverage. Some providers offer a fixed rate for ambulance rides (e.g. a $500 co-pay), while others cover a portion of the ambulance bill once you’ve hit your deductible.
Depending on who was at fault for the accident, you may be entitled to receive compensation from your auto insurance and/or the other driver’s auto insurance to cover your out-of-pocket ambulance costs. This could come in the form of a standard auto insurance claim, or in the form of a settlement or court judgement if you file a personal injury lawsuit. Either way, it’s critical to keep in mind that you are responsible for submitting the ambulance bill to your insurance provider and paying your portion of the out-of-pocket costs until the claim, settlement, or judgment comes through. Failure to do so—even if you’re simply waiting in good faith for what you’re sure will be a favorable claim—will likely result in your ambulance bill being sent to collections, which can negatively impact your credit and compound the cost of the original bill.
If you do not have health insurance, or if your health insurance plan doesn’t cover emergency medical transportation, you may be able to negotiate a temporary solution with the ambulance company until your claim, settlement, or judgement is approved. Some companies are willing to set up an affordable payment plan, while others may be willing to forego payments in leu of a lien against settlement proceeds. In the latter scenario, the ambulance company will need to receive payment before you can receive the proceeds of your settlement.
Your personal health insurance plan should cover your medical bills resulting from the car accident. As with the ambulance bill, you may be entitled to compensation for out-of-pocket costs from the auto insurance providers in the form of a claim, settlement, or court judgement. However, you’ll still be responsible for paying those out-of-pocket costs until your personal injury case concludes.
If you don’t have health insurance or if your plan leaves you with sizeable medical bills that you can’t afford, you have the same options as you do with covering your ambulance bill. Luckily, hospitals and healthcare providers are typically much more willing to work with you to find a fair solution than ambulance provides tend to be. You should be able to set up a payment plan, or the healthcare provider can place a lien against settlement proceeds.
Initially, your auto insurance policy should cover the repairs or replacement costs for your damaged vehicle. Depending on who was at fault for the accident, the other driver’s auto insurance may eventually compensate you for a portion of your out-of-pocket repair or replacement costs. However, as Arizona is a comparative fault state and most two-car accidents assign a portion of fault to both drivers (e.g. the other driver was 60% at fault and you were 40% at fault), the other driver’s auto insurance provider will likely only be responsible for compensating you for a portion of your out-of-pocket costs.
Car accidents with serious injuries often result in the victim missing work, whether it’s for a hospital stay, in-patient rehabilitation, or out-patient follow-up appointments with doctors and physical therapists. This isn’t always a problem for salaried employees who qualify for FMLA, but it can be a huge issue for employees who are paid hourly wages and/or commissions. A successful insurance claim, settlement, or court judgement should include compensation for lost income, but unfortunately that compensation won’t come through until your case concludes. In the meantime, you may be left with limited income.
If you have disability insurance through your employer, this is where such a policy finds its value. You may need to file some paperwork with your employer or the insurance provider, and the income will likely only be a portion of your average income (most disability income policies are for 50% of your average income), but that’s a lot better than getting a $0 paycheck while you’re out of work.
The value of hiring a personal injury attorney
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you should consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Even if your case is simple and straightforward, a good attorney may be able to expedite your insurance claim and negotiate more favorable terms. The attorney may even be able to negotiate with the ambulance company and healthcare providers to lower your payments or approve a minimal payment plan until your claim comes through.
That said, while it’s good to be optimistic, the reality is that most auto insurance companies are extremely reluctant to pay out fair and timely claims to injured drivers. If you want to receive the maximum damages that you’re entitled to under Arizona law, your attorney will likely need to file a personal injury lawsuit and work towards a settlement or court judgement.