In the state of Texas, if you are injured in an automobile accident and are taken to the emergency room, there is a chance that the hospital may file what is called a “hospital lien” against you. They are given the power to do so under Chapter 55 of the Texas Property Code.
There are a few requirements that must be met by the hospital prior to the lien “attaching” and being considered something you must pay back. First, they must provide notice to you. Second, they must file written notice of the lien with the county clerk of the county in which the services were provided PRIOR TO money being paid to you because of the injury.
The lien itself attaches to any cause of action, judgment, or settlement that arises from the incident that caused your injuries leading to needing treatment at the emergency room. The lien is filed on behalf of the emergency room/hospital itself; any additional bills, such as any ambulance, EMT, or physicians are not included in the lien.
An important distinction to note is that in Texas, the hospital lien can only attach to third-party claims. That means that the hospital only has a right to recover if the liability insurance you are recovering from is owned by a third party, like someone who hits you in a car accident and is found at fault. If you carry underinsured motorist/uninsured motorist coverage and personal injury protection coverage, also known as PIP (as everyone should), any hospital liens DO NOT attach to this recovery.
So, what does this all mean? Basically, the emergency room has a right to be paid back out of the insurance coverage for the driver that hit you, if they are at fault. If they did not have insurance, or if your injuries and damages were so great that you had to use your underinsured motorist coverage, then the hospital lien DOES NOT attach to your recovery. This is important to note as it can have a significant impact on your recovery for your claim.
Some counties provide a website where you can search to see if the hospital has filed a lien against your emergency room visit. Others may require you to search the county clerk records in person. Remember, the lien must be filed in the county in which you went to the emergency room, not where you live. So, if you live in County A but have an accident and receive treatment in County B, you need to be sure to search the records of the county clerk for County B.
It is important to make sure that all of your financial obligations arising from your personal injury claim are taken care of. It is helpful to have an attorney who is familiar with personal injury settlements and judgments so that when the time comes to pay the hospital lien (if they have filed one), you are not taken advantage of and you are adequately represented.