When you are injured in a car accident in Georgia and there are serious medical bills and the at fault driver only has minimum insurance coverages, the availability of Georgia Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Insurance is a major issue. As you may recall from my post a few weeks back, we were hopeful that the Court of Appeals would extend the logic of the Toomer and Thurman decisions to hold that having to pay off hospital liens in Georgia would have a positive effect on a persons ability to access their UM coverage. That has not happened.
As I explained earlier, for car crashes from before 1/1/2009 in Georgia, car accident lawyers are often faced with situations where their clients only have $25,000.00 in Georgia Underinsured motorist coverage and the at-fault party has $25,000.00 in liability coverage. Barring other insurance sources, the clients were left with having to settle for the available limits of $25,000.00 and no access to their UM. Georgia Appellate Courts held though in Toomer and Thurman that mandatory payment language in Federal Law for Medicare and Federal Worker’s Compensation claims would allow that same person to access their Underinsured coverage.
For example, if you had a $12,000.00 Medicare lien, then you could settle for the $25,000.00 from the Georgia liability insurance company for the person that hit you, repay the $12,000 out of it and then access the $12,000.00 from your own Uninsured Motorist Insurance.
We had hoped that because hospitals can file liens on our clients that have to be addressed in some fashion, that the Court would also find that the payment of the liens allowed access into the Georgia Uninsured Motorist Coverage., I was frustrated that the Court found that any negotiated settlement with the hospital is a voluntary payment and therefore not mandatory. I understand the logic and the result is probably legally sound, but it hurts people injured in car accidents.
It may mean that in a case with enough money at stake on the lien, that the injured party actually has to let the Hospital proceed all the way to getting a judgment against the injured party. Then the debt payment would no longer be voluntary. That is a risky proposition, but it may be all that is left for the parties to do.
The text of the decision is below.
IMPORTANT UPDATE. AS OF APRIL 15, 2009 THE BAD DECISION WAS REVERSED! HOORAH FOR THE GOOD GUYS. I WILL BE POSTING ANEW ON THE CHANGE IN THE LAW.