How to Defend Yourself Against a NJ Medical Debt Lawsuit

If you owe a hospital or private physician a large amount of medical debt and have been pursued by the hospital or a debt collector they’ve hired, there’s a strong possibility that the collection agency or hospital could decide to sue you for the remainder of the debt.

Don’t panic! We have compiled the steps and strategies that will help guide you if you are served with a lawsuit for your medical debt.

One of the most common mistakes debtors make when they are sued is not responding to the notice, which arrives as a “summons and complaint.” Debtors will often assume that if they do not have the money to pay the debt that they can just toss that summons and complaint in the trash and forget it. However, there are many avenues that are still available to you, even if you cannot currently pay the bill.

If you fail to respond to the summons and complaint, the collector will be awarded a default judgment against you. This will give them the power to pursue collection in more aggressive ways, including garnishing your wages or taking money directly from your bank account. Worse still, they’ll be able to tack on attorney’s fees, court costs, and potentially even accrued interest.

Now that you know you must respond to the summons and complaint, you’ll need to learn how to do so. The one thing you must NOT do is respond by simply saying you cannot pay the bills you owe. That’s like a defense attorney deciding to defend their client by announcing that the prosecution is correct! “Your honor, my client is guilty just like the prosecution says.”

With the help of your attorney, you’ll file an Appearance form before the Return Date listed on your summons and complaint. If you fail to do so, remember, you will be found liable by default. Your attorney will be able to fill out the paperwork for you, or guide you in doing so properly.

When you meet with your NJ debt resolution attorney, he will be able to advise you on the best defense against the lawsuit that was filed. The legal advice you receive will be tailored to your unique case details, with the end goal of proving that you are not responsible for the debt. Alternatively, your attorney may work to reduce the amount of medical debt you’ll have to repay over time.

Your attorney will demand that the collection agency or hospital prove that you owe the amount they claim. Experienced legal counsel knows what documents to demand in court from the opposing side. A strong defense straight out of the gate will often prompt the collection agency or hospital to begin settlement proceedings and reach a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

While it is possible to defend yourself in court against a medical debt lawsuit, you should strongly consider working with an attorney who will be able to take your individual situation into account and offer you the very best defense tailored to your needs. Only an experienced attorney who has complete access to your case will be able to do so.  You deserve the best assistance in your defense so that you can live out a peaceful future, which ideally does not include medical debt hanging over your head.
Image: “Hospital Municipal de Chiconcuac” by Presidenciamx – licensed under CC 2.0

Should I File for Bankruptcy Before or After my Medical Procedure?

If you plan to file for bankruptcy and you also have plans to undergo a medical procedure, you will most likely benefit from delaying your filing until after you have had your procedure. Bankruptcy only discharges debt incurred prior to filing; if you first file for bankruptcy and then add medical bills incurred at a later date, those medical bills will not be covered by your existing bankruptcy agreement, even if you are unable to pay your medical bills.

Medical debt is eligible for forgiveness under both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies, which are the two most common types of individual bankruptcy filings. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a complete forgiveness of debt, whereas Chapter 13 bankruptcy includes a plan for partial repayment of the debt and forgiveness of the remainder. Which type of filing is best for you depends on your income, amount of debt, and types (and the value of) assets you have in your possession.

It is generally inadvisable to generate debt with the intention of having it forgiven through bankruptcy; it can be determined that the additional charges were incurred fraudulently, and such debt will be exempt from the bankruptcy agreement. If you’re about to petition for bankruptcy, it would be unwise to go on a shopping spree or take off on a blowout Vegas vacation, for example. However, medical bills are not subject to this type of scrutiny. There’s no cap or limit on how much medical debt can be forgiven in a bankruptcy.

There is, however, a limit on how often one can file for bankruptcy. The number of years varies, depending on the type of bankruptcy filing and how the debt was discharged. If you have previously had debt discharged in a Chapter 7 filing, you must wait eight years from the date you filed for that bankruptcy before you can qualify to file for another Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If you filed a Chapter 7 and now wish to file for a Chapter 13, there must be at least four years between your Chapter 7 date of filing and your new Chapter 13 case if you are looking to discharge more debt.

These are just a few examples, but as you can see, no type of bankruptcy filing can be arranged back-to-back to cover new debts, medical or otherwise. This means that if you file for bankruptcy, then incur more medical debt, you’ll be saddled with it until you can pay it, or until enough years have passed that you can qualify to file for an additional bankruptcy discharge.

You will have the option of filing for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy before four years have passed since your Chapter 7 discharge, but only if you are looking to reorganize your remaining debts. These remaining debts cannot be discharged for another four years.

Finally, if you are currently receiving ongoing medical care that will be resolved in a matter of months, it is most likely advisable to wait until your course of treatment is complete before filing for bankruptcy. The debts incurred during your treatment can all be included in your bankruptcy filing, and will be eligible for complete forgiveness.

 

Image: “Medical/Surgical Operative Photography” by Phalinn Ooi – licensed under CC by 2.0

I’m Disabled and in Debt: Can I be Sued for the Money I Owe?

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Maybe you were plugging along with a solid debt-snowball plan that was going swimmingly, effectively reducing your overall debt bit by bit before you became disabled. Disability can happen to anyone, at any time, and can come in an endless number of forms. Whether you were in a vehicular accident, had a serious fall, or if you have been diagnosed with a serious illness or disease, the effect on your finances can be simply devastating.

Regardless of the cause of your disability, if you also have a large amount of debt you can’t repay, you may be feeling helpless and afraid of what will happen next. Will the credit card company sue you? Will you go to jail? Will your family be responsible for your debts?

The bad news is that you can be sued for unpaid debts, however, it’s the best kind of bad news you can get. If your disability has caused you to be unable to work, you probably don’t have very much money in your bank account. The good news, then, is that you have no money for your creditors to take, even if they do sue you. You don’t have to worry about going to jail, either, unless your creditor is your ex-spouse and the unpaid debt is child support. Even then, a change in life circumstance (your disability) can be entered into your family court case, which will reduce your support payments while you are disabled. And your family will not be responsible for debts taken out in your name only.

What if I collect Social Security disability benefits?

If your creditor sues you for a debt you owe them, they can have your bank account levied if you refuse to pay the judgement amount (your refusal would make sense if you actually can’t pay it due to lack of money.) However, some debtors do find themselves with at least some money in their bank accounts if they receive payments from Social Security due to their disability. The good news here is that disability funds are exempt from collection by creditors or collection agencies.

For those of you who are receiving disability benefits, it is of the utmost importance that you keep your disability money distinctly separated from any other monies you may receive. It is best to open a new bank account that will only receive deposits from Social Security. If you commingle your Social Security funds with any other funds that may trickle in while you are not working (gifts from family, yard sale money, proceeds from selling stuff on eBay) – you can risk losing some of your Social Security money if a levy is placed upon your bank account(s).

While many disabilities are short-lived, some are not, and still others are difficult to predict. Because of the unpredictable nature of so many disabilities, illnesses and injuries, your best bet is to file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This will rid you of the debt that is currently hanging over your head like a dark cloud and will release you from worrying about it. Your ability to focus on healing physically will undoubtedly improve with the weight of your debts lifted.

Your credit rating will take a hit if you decide to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in New Jersey. The same is true if you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. However, the benefits of wiping out your extensive debts while you’re disabled are much greater than the effects of a lower credit score at this time. Your bankruptcy attorney will be able to help you improve your credit score after your bankruptcy discharge, so that you can get it moving back in the right direction, just as you will be able to improve your mental and physical health without the stress of owing so much money.

Image credit: Alexander Edward

Am I Responsible for the Ambulance Fee if I Refused Transport?

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The cost of being transported to a local hospital via ambulance can make anyone’s jaw drop. Even a short, one block drive wherein they provided no EMT assistance can easily be billed at $750+. While it’s true that most insurance companies do cover ambulance transport, high deductibles and lack of adequate insurance coverage often leave patients responsible for the full amount.

Imagine the following scenario: You were involved in a minor accident, whether automobile or otherwise. Finding yourself either without injury or having sustained only minor injuries, you decide to make your way to the hospital on your own. Bystanders, other drivers, or security personnel who witnessed your accident, however, may have deemed it necessary to call 911 on your behalf. What happens, then, when you’re surprised by the arrival of a bleating ambulance that you feel you never even needed?

Many patients have reported being informed that they could not refuse transport via ambulance in NJ. One man was essentially strapped down against his will (he had a broken arm and was unable to resist) and driven to the hospital. The drive took 2 minutes, and no treatment was given throughout his ride in the ambulance other than stabilization of his arm. A week later, the man in this scenario was billed almost $1000 for the ambulance service.

Another scenario played out like this: After a minor fall at work, a woman found herself with a minor abrasion on her leg. It was a surface abrasion, and she had it cleaned and bandaged by her company’s in-house nurse. A security officer witnessed the accident (it was a minor trip and fall that the patient acknowledges was no one’s fault but her own) and called 911. The woman was already back at her desk working when she was surprised by the arrival of an ambulance. She refused transport, but it wasn’t easy to convince the emergency medical team members that she did not need treatment. They eventually left without her, but she too received a bill for an ambulance ride that she never even took.

Who is responsible in these (and similar) scenarios? Finding yourself with a hefty medical bill that you can’t afford can be overwhelming – but what should you do if you feel that you’re not even responsible for the bill?

In every situation where you’re faced with a medical bill that either isn’t covered by your insurance, or is still more than you can afford even with insurance coverage – the best course of action is to negotiate. Almost every medical bill can be negotiated, either before treatment occurs, or after it has been administered, and this includes ambulance transportation.

If you don’t want to deal with a huge hassle and you did actually receive transport via emergency vehicle, you can call the provider and tell them what you can afford to pay. Many times, you will find that they are happy to receive at least a portion of the billed amount. They may also work with you to set up a payment plan so that you can pay the bill off in installments.

However, if you refused emergency transportation altogether and are still being aggressively billed (with no sign of them backing down), you should schedule a free consult with a New Jersey debt resolution attorney. If you decide to retain their services, you will very likely pay the attorney much less than you would have paid the ambulance service, and you will have the satisfaction of not paying for something that you didn’t receive. Additionally, taking proactive steps to resolve the matter will prevent the ambulance bill from dinging your credit report.

Image credit: Lauren Siegert