You Can’t Spell “Lien” Without “Lie”: Unenforceability of Medical Services Liens Against Patients

 In Insurance

The typical demand letter received from a third party liability (TPL) vendor regarding notice of a medical services lien under chapter 60.44 RCW usually includes language to this effect:  “you are legally liable for ensuring payment of this lien.”  Is that true, though?  Let’s take a close look.

RCW 60.44.060 provides that “Such [medical service] lien may be enforced by a suit at law brought by the claimant or his or her assignee within one year after the filing of such lien against the said tort feasor and/or insurer.”  Notice the conspicuous absence of any provision allowing suit directly against the patient?  In fact, in PCVA’s lawsuit against TPL vendor Hunter Donaldson and MultiCare Health System, MultiCare has admitted multiple times in court that medical providers have no means of directly suing a patient to enforce a lien.  The law is plain:  only the tortfeasor or the tortfeasor’s insurer is liable for failure to pay a medical services lien.  It is only when we, as personal injury attorneys, sign a hold harmless agreement with the insurer requiring our client to pay such liens that we open our clients to direct liability for the lien.  If you haven’t signed such an agreement, and the TPL vendor or medical provider lets a year pass without suing to enforce the lien or filing a new lien, the threats in those demand letters are entirely empty.

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