a medical bill swept under the rug turns up during a company house cleaning. the matter was settled in our favor. the fault was not ours. are we still responsible for their negligence
More information would be helpful, but the short answer to your question is probably YES, you are responsibel for the medical bill. I assume that when your wife settled her case, she signed a release of all claims against the at-fault driver. If so, there is likely nothing she can do with respect to the bill. Feel free to call if you have any questions.
I am unclear on whether the accident was 6 months ago or 6 years ago. In general, it doesn't matter who was at fault or whether or not you settled -- you are responsible for your bills either way. However, if this bill is 6 years old and no one has contacted you for payment, it was surely long ago written off and is no longer collectable (statute on contract bills is 6 years, statute on non-contract debts is 4 years). If the bill is only 6 months old, try to get health insurance or medical payments (if applicable) to cover it, and failing that, make arrangements to pay.
Your former attorney should have made certain that all medical bills were paid, maybe he did and this debt was inadvertently sold to a debt collector. If it is a small bill, then you may want to pay it and also dispute the debt to take it off of your credit report. If it is a large bill, they may sue you to seek a judgment and that will open a whole can of worms. See if your old attorney can help you. The statute of limitations is 4-6 years depending on the type of contract debt. However, many of these debt collectors are bullies and will just hope that you cave to their tactics. If it is past the statute of limitations, then contact them and tell them this, also explain the situation and show them any proof you have. They may not listen, because debt collectors are bullies. If you contact them before the Statute of Limitations has run, then this may start the clock ticking again and you definitely do not want that.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION
PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS COMMITTEE
MEDICAL LIENS - DISBURSEMENT OF CLIENT FUNDS.
An attorney who has notice of a medical lien on funds recovered by a client in a personal injury action should not disburse those funds to the lienholder without the client's consent. The attorney may not simply disburse the contested funds to the client under such circumstances, however, even where the client so instructs the attorney.
American Bar Association Informal Opinion No. 1295
California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 4-100 and 4-210
Crooks v. State Bar, 3 Cal. 3d 346, 90 Cal. Rptr. 600 (1970)
"Interprofessional Guidelines," A Joint Publication of the California Medical Association and the Standing Committee to Confer With the CMA, State Bar of California (Revised 1991)
In The Matter of Respondent P, 2 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 622 (Review Dept. 1993)
Johnstone v. State Bar of California, 64 Cal. 2d 153, 49 Cal. Rptr. 97 (1966)
Los Angeles County Bar Association Formal Opinions No. 368 (June 16, 1977) and 454;
Miller v. Rau, 216 Cal. App. 2d 68, 30 Cal. Rptr. 612 (1963)
Pearlmutter v. Alexander, 97 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 16, 158 Cal. Rptr. 762 (1979)
State Bar of California Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct, Formal Opinion No. 1988-101
FACTS AND ISSUES PRESENTED
The Committee has been asked for an opinion regarding the following facts:
A client obtained medical services paid for by a health plan. An attorney filed a personal injury suit on the client's behalf. Prior to settling the client's case, the attorney received a notice of lien from the health plan and a copy of a lien acknowledgment form signed by the client. When the case settled, the client instructed the attorney not to pay the lien but, rather, to remit the settlement funds to the client. At the attorney's request, the client subsequently signed an acknowledgment form acknowledging personal responsibility for the debt.
The issues presented to the Committee are whether an attorney may properly remit settlement funds to a client, in accordance with the client's instructions or, alternatively, to a third party lienholder, despite the client's lack of consent, where (1) the attorney has notice of the third party's interest in those funds; (2) the attorney is aware that the client has executed a lien acknowledgment form; and (3) the client subsequently acknowledges his or her own responsibility to pay the third-party debt.
It should first be noted that the legal enforceability of a third party's interest in client trust funds held by an attorney is a question of law beyond the purview of this Committee. Thus, we limit our consideration of the issues presented here to their ethical components.
The general rule concerning funds received or held by an attorney for the benefit of a client is stated in Rule 4-100 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct. That Rule provides in pertinent part that:
"A member shall...[p]romptly pay or deliver, as requested by the client, any funds, securities, or other properties in the possession of the member which the client is entitled to receive." (Emphasis added.)
Normally, disbursing trust funds to a client pursuant to the client's instructions would be an appropriate course of action. Under the facts presented here, however, should the attorney disburse the funds to the client without the lienholder's consent, the attorney may be subject to discipline. Because the attorney received a notice of lien from the health plan, as well as a copy of a lien acknowledgment form executed by the client, certain fiduciary duties to the health plan have arisen which now conflict with the attorney's duty to obey the client's instructions regarding disbursement of the funds.See, e.g., Crooks v. State Bar, 3 Cal. 3d 346, 355, 90 Cal. Rptr. 600, 606 (1970) ("When an attorney receives
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