What are liens and how are they handled?

San Mateo County Personal Injury Attorney Reuben Donig: A lien is a legal device for securing reimbursement or repayment of a debt. And usually in the context of a personal injury case, they arise when you either owe money unconditionally or in some cases conditionally to someone who secures their right to get reimbursed by placing a lien against your financial recovery. Let me give a few specific examples. You may not have any health insurance and no ability to get treatment for your injuries. You may find a doctor who’s willing to treat you but then says, “I want a lien against your recovery so that when your case is finalized, I will get paid from the financial settlement.” That would be one kind of a lien. You have to sign something. Your attorney should sign it as well, securing the doctor’s right to get reimbursed or repaid from your financial recovery.

Liens or sometimes they’re subrogation, they’re slightly different but very similar animals, often, as a matter of fact, usually arise in the context of personal injury cases with regard to the health insurance payments that were made by your health insurance provider whether it was a health insurance plan offered by such as Blue Cross or Etna or Blue Shield, or you receive Medicare or Medi-Cal benefits, or if your employer offers health insurance as a benefit under a self-funded plan, the language of the policy or the plan or by legislation, Medi-Cal or Medicare, they have a right to get reimbursed, a legal right to get reimbursed from your recovery from the party who caused your injuries and those plans or rights to get repaid are either called ‘subrogation rights’ or ‘lien rights’, and those are examples of liens, particularly Medicare, Medi-Cal, or an ERISA self-funded plan are in the fullest legal extent, they are liens. What your health insurance has a right to get paid back technically it’s not a lien, it’s a subrogation claim. There are subtle differences but they’re very technical.

(Attorney Reuben Donig specializes in personal injury law and premises liability, including auto and car accidents in San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Alameda County and San Francisco County. Visit him at www.doniglaw.com if you have a question you’d like to ask).

Practice Areas