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How California Medical Lien Affects Your Personal Injury Case

medical lien California

Experienced Legal Counsel for California Medical Liens

At Conlogue Law LLP, we provide the right legal counsel and advocacy for individuals grappling with California medical liens. With a deep understanding of the nuances involved and a track record of successful resolutions, our personal injury lawyers are dedicated to helping our clients navigate this intricate legal terrain. 

Quick Summary

  • A California Medical Lien is a way for medical providers to help individuals injured in accidents who can’t afford their medical expenses or lack health insurance.
  • Not all healthcare professionals in California accept medical liens due to concerns about the success of personal injury cases.
  • There are two main types of medical liens: statutory and contractual, with statutory liens mainly applying to government and hospital interests.
  • Health insurance may require reimbursement from a personal injury settlement, and auto insurance medical payments may need to be repaid if another driver is at fault.
  • Some healthcare providers offer treatment on a lien basis, meaning they provide immediate care with the expectation of payment from a settlement.
  • Medical liens require a signed agreement and notification to the insurer, allowing the provider to be paid directly from your settlement.
  • Statutory medical liens enable hospitals to place liens against those at fault, ensuring access to emergency care.
  • Medical liens can impact personal injury cases by allowing the healthcare provider to seek payment from your settlement.
  • California Civil Code 3045.4 limits how much hospitals can recover from your injury settlement.
  • Health insurance companies can reclaim medical expenses based on specific percentages or actual costs.
  • The Made Whole Doctrine protects your settlement until you’re fully compensated for your injuries.
  • The Common Fund Doctrine allows insurers to recover a reduced amount, sharing attorney costs.
  • There is a four-year statute of limitations for medical lien repayment, but it doesn’t affect the underlying debt.


Whether you’re a plaintiff or defendant in a personal injury case, our team of legal professionals is here to assist you in achieving a favorable outcome. Let us be your guiding light in the often convoluted world of medical liens. Reach out to us today for a free consultation and
take the first step toward a brighter legal future.

What is a California Medical Lien?

Medical providers often issue a medical lien when someone gets hurt in an accident but can’t cover their medical expenses due to a lack of health insurance or financial constraints. It’s important to know that not all healthcare professionals in California are open to working with medical liens because they worry that the injured person’s personal injury case might not succeed.

There are generally two types of medical liens: statutory and contractual. Statutory liens are established by the law itself, while contractual liens arise from agreements between patients and doctors. Statutory liens mainly apply to government and hospital interests. 

On the other hand, contractual liens result from specific contracts between two parties. Most medical liens fall into this category, based on one of the following factors:

Health Insurance

Many health insurance companies include clauses in their agreements that require you to reimburse them for any medical benefits they’ve paid if you later receive compensation from a third party in a personal injury settlement.

Auto Insurance Medical Payments

If your auto insurance covers medical costs related to your accident, and it’s determined that another driver is at fault, you might need to repay some or all of the benefits you received from your insurance after you’ve settled your claim.

Treatment Agreements

When someone gets injured in a car accident without having medical insurance, some healthcare providers may agree to treat them on a lien basis. In such cases, the doctor or care provider agrees to provide immediate treatment without upfront payment, with the understanding that they’ll be compensated when a settlement is reached.

If you’re uncertain about whether a medical lien is the right choice for your situation, reach out to our skilled California personal injury attorney. We can provide guidance and help you determine if utilizing a medical lien is appropriate for your specific case.

How Do Medical Liens Work in California?

When a medical provider agrees to treat you on a lien basis, the initial step is to enter into a legally binding contract known as a lien agreement. Once you’ve signed this contract, the medical provider takes action to formalize the lien by sending a notification to the insurer and other relevant parties. 

This notification allows the insurance company or the other party to directly compensate the medical provider from your settlement or jury award before you receive your final compensation amount. In California, there is also a provision for what are called “statutory liens,” which empower hospitals to place medical liens against those who are at fault. 

This arrangement ensures that injured individuals can access emergency medical services. To establish a statutory medical lien, medical providers are required to provide written notice of their charges to the party at fault. After you’ve received compensation for your medical expenses, the medical provider has up to one year to recover their costs. 

In cases where the plaintiff is covered by Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program, the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which administers the program, has the authority to take legal action on behalf of the plaintiff and even assert its lien on the monetary recovery.

Can a California Medical Lien Affect My Personal Injury Case?

Indeed, although not always in the ways it may initially seem. Instead of directly influencing the result of a personal injury claim, a medical lien can impact an individual’s access to necessary healthcare throughout their personal injury case. Consequently, it can also affect their ability to settle the medical bills resulting from that care.

How Does California Medical Lien Affect Your Personal Injury Case?

A medical lien can impact the outcome of your personal injury settlement by granting your healthcare provider the authority to seek payment for their services directly from your settlement amount. This arrangement is based on a binding contract between you and your healthcare provider. 

In this contract, the provider agrees to offer treatment at a reduced rate or even at no cost, while you agree to allow them to recover their medical fees from the settlement or judgment you receive in your lawsuit against the responsible party. Think of a medical lien as a way to receive necessary medical treatment on a kind of “credit” basis. 

If you fail to repay it, the healthcare provider has the option to take legal action against you to recover their expenses. Additionally, these liens ensure that you don’t receive a financial windfall from your case. 

Without a lien, you would typically receive treatment from the healthcare provider and then seek compensation for your medical costs from the liable party’s insurance company. Medical liens are most commonly utilized by individuals who have suffered injuries in accidents and:

  • underinsured
  • unable to pay for their deductible or copay


The healthcare professional who agrees to offer medical care in return for a medical lien is referred to as the medical lienholder.

Will All Doctors Accept a California Medical Lien?

Not every healthcare professional is open to the idea of collaborating through a medical lien. When they do agree to it, it essentially means they’re offering you medical services on credit, and you’re responsible for repaying them. 

Healthcare providers typically consider working on a lien basis if they have confidence in the success of your case and your ability to secure compensation. In such situations, having our California personal injury on your side can be beneficial, as we can reassure the medical provider about the strength of your case. 

We can explain that your injury resulted from someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, making your case more likely to succeed. In cases involving strict liability, convincing a medical provider to work on a lien basis may be more straightforward. 

For instance, if you were injured in a dog attack, the strict liability statute holds dog owners financially responsible for injuries caused by their pets, making it easier to secure their cooperation.

Are California Medical Liens Negotiable?

Our trusted personal injury attorney can assist you in finding a healthcare provider who offers favorable lien terms even before you commit to signing an agreement. If you’ve already signed a lien agreement, rest assured that we can still engage in negotiations with the lienholder to potentially reduce the amount you owe under the lien or establish a manageable payment plan.

It’s worth noting that California Civil Code 3045.4 imposes limitations on the amount a hospital can recover from your injury settlement. The hospital is entitled to receive only 50% of your compensation after your attorney’s fees and other legal costs have been deducted. 

Your attorney will handle these deductions and then distribute the appropriate share to the healthcare provider. However, when it comes to negotiating subrogation with an insurance company, our legal team will carefully reference the relevant California laws to ensure the best possible outcome for your settlement.

California Civil Code 3040

California Civil Code 3040 places limitations on the amount that health insurance companies can reclaim from your award. The sum they are entitled to retrieve is determined by either the actual cost of the medical services they covered or a specific percentage of the settlement amount, depending on various factors. 

The insurance company will be reimbursed the lesser of the two. The medical expenses you incur are contingent on how the health insurance company compensates the healthcare provider. Providers who receive capitation payments from insurers for each patient they treat are typically not entitled to more than 80% of their usual charges. 

However, if the insurer pays them on a non-capitation basis, the physician can receive payment based on the entire medical bill. When you collaborate with a personal injury attorney, the insurer may be able to reclaim up to one-third of the settlement. 

In contrast, if you choose not to enlist a lawyer, the insurance company can potentially recoup up to half of your compensation.

Made Whole Doctrine

The Made Whole Doctrine safeguards your entitlement to your settlement in situations where it’s insufficient to cover all your losses. This principle ensures that your insurer cannot recoup medical expenses until you’ve been fully compensated for your injuries, or in other words until you’ve been “made whole.” 

If the responsible party cannot provide you with complete compensation, your insurance company is not permitted to pursue payment from your settlement.

Common Fund Doctrine

Under the Common Fund Doctrine, a health insurer can seek reimbursement, but it’s typically a reduced amount, based on the reasonable fees and expenses you had to cover for your attorney. 

This doctrine is designed to ensure fairness, as both you and the insurance company benefit from the settlement, and therefore, the insurance company should contribute to the attorney’s costs in securing that settlement.

This principle serves as a safeguard, preventing you from bearing the entire burden of your attorney’s fees without the assistance of insurance companies that possess subrogation rights. In essence, it promotes a fair sharing of the costs incurred in obtaining the settlement.

What is California’s Statute of Limitations for Medical Liens?

In California, the Statute of Limitations for Medical Liens is four years from the signing of the lien agreement. During this period, healthcare providers can pursue payment through legal action if you fail to fulfill your obligations. It’s crucial to understand that this limitation specifically pertains to the provider’s ability to enforce the lien in court.

Once the four-year period expires, the provider loses the special lien rights allowing direct collection from your settlement funds. However, some agreements may create an indefinite obligation, with no statute of limitations, if you’re holding settlement funds in trust for the medical provider. In such cases, legal action remains a possibility at any time.

For statutory liens, hospitals have a one-year window to seek payment, while Medi-Cal has three years to take legal action against the at-fault third party. Lastly, the standard statute of limitations to initiate a lawsuit in California personal injury cases is two years following the accident or the discovery of the injury.

Your Experienced Legal Partner in Complex California Medical Lien Legal Matters

Grappling with medical liens in California in the context of a personal injury case can be a daunting task, with significant implications for the outcome. It’s a multifaceted legal terrain that demands the knowledge of experienced legal professionals. 

At Conlogue Law LLP, we have a proven track record of successfully navigating the complexities of medical liens, ensuring that our clients receive the maximum compensation they deserve. Our commitment to excellence, combined with our deep understanding of the intricacies involved, sets us apart as a leading force in the field of personal injury law.

If you or a loved one is dealing with a California medical lien and seeking the right legal guidance, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free consultation. Our dedicated team of personal injury lawyers is here to assist you every step of the way, from negotiating lien reductions to advocating for your rights in court if necessary. 

Our law firm can also represent you in Maritime Accidents, Airplane Crash Accidents, Premises Liability, and Product Liability. Let Conlogue Law LLP be your trusted partner in securing a favorable outcome in your personal injury case. Contact us today for a free consultation, and take the first step toward a brighter legal future.

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