One of the main fears of Illinois Workers Compensation attorneys (heck, any workers comp attorney, probably) is that, after settlements are drafted and approved and checks are sent out, it pops up.
What pops up? That medical bill that had been hiding in the client’s desk drawer, or lurking behind the bushes, or hanging from the client’s ceiling fan, waiting to pounce at the most inopportune time.
Make no mistake, this devious bill hates you. It hates clients, attorneys, and all good-hearted people in the world. It even hates the doctor who sent it (if it liked the doctor, it would have shown up by now and been paid). And puppies… boy does it hate puppies. (editor’s note: Mr. Zimmerle has no actual proof that neglected medical bills hate puppies… but he states he’s “pretty darned sure” so I’ll allow this in – ed.)
All hatred aside, this despicable little bill needs to be paid. (Make no mistake, this bill is rarely “little”). But whoops, the contracts are drafted and approved and make no mention of this bill at all. Normally it would be the client’s responsibility to pay this bill out of the settlement proceeds – leading to one unhappy former client.
However, the Fifth District Appellate Court put on its Superman cape and apparently saved those clients… at least for now. The new case of Hagene v. Derek Polling Construction indicates that those bills are still the employer’s responsibility, depending on the language of the settlement contract!
Now this contract language seemed pretty good to me. It listed all “Medical Expenses” without the bills at issue. The employer checked a box stating that it had paid all medical bills, and in a space to list the unpaid medical bills, none were listed.
It gets better.
The second page of the contract notes that the settlement is in “full, final and complete settlement of any and all claims… including… past, present and/or future medical and hospital bills.” It even states that the “Petitioner submitted to the Respondent all reasonable, necessary and causally related medical and hospital bills and that the Respondent has fully satisfied the same prior to the approval date of this contract.”
Wow. Somehow, the Fifth District still held the employer responsible for the unlisted, unpaid bills. I have to be honest… even though this case helps my clients and myself, I think it’s probably wrongly decided.
Nevertheless, good petitioner’s attorneys should know that this case is out there, and use it if ever confronted with one of those puppy-hating, neglected bills. Enjoy it now folks, because soon good defense attorneys will have learned how to contract around this case. Even Superman gets leapfrogged eventually.
(Howard Zimmerle is a workers compensation attorney from Rock Island, Illinois).