If you are in an accident that was not your fault, you may think that you can wait to pay your medical bills after your personal injury case has been settled. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

As of 2014, 43 million Americans had unpaid medical debt on their credit reports, some the result of someone else’s negligence. There is no way for credit bureaus – or the hospitals that send bills to collection agencies, for that matter – to differentiate between medical bills that are going unpaid for financial reasons or those that are going unpaid in anticipation of a potential personal injury lawsuit settlement.

If you are in a minor accident, you will likely be paid by the other party’s insurance company quickly enough that you can pay your medical bills before they go to collections. But if you are in a serious accident, one that keeps you from working and may prevent you from returning to work, medical bills can pile up quickly. And if you are unable to pay those bills, they may end up going to collections. Why? Because the hospital or health care provider does not care that you are not responsible for your injuries. They just want to be paid. And if you are unable to cover the costs of your bills, your credit score will ultimately pay the price.

What will happen to my credit score?

Unpaid bills can send your credit score dropping as much as 50 to 100 points, so it’s a pretty serious matter. A few years ago, the three major credit reporting agencies made some changes to how they report medical debt. According to experts, Equifax, Experian and Transunion, as of March of 2015, there will be a 180-day waiting period before medical debts are reported to allow insurance payments to make payments. The move does help those who are waiting for their own insurance companies to pay their providers.

“It’s a big deal,” Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst at Creditcards.com, told Money magazine. “It builds time into the messiness of getting insurance claims taken care of.” 

Still, it still won’t be much help to those waiting for a personal injury case to be settled, especially those waiting for their case to go to trial, a process that can take years.

In such situations, patients can opt to have their medical provider take out a lien on the outstanding balance. This ensures that when you receive your settlement, your bills will be paid.

Your attorney will pay the bills after your court case is settled.

If, however, you lose your court case or your settlement is not enough to cover the costs of your medical expenses, you may be able to negotiate with your medical providers to prevent your credit score from taking a hit.

What can a poor credit score impact?

Taking action is important. If your medical bills have negatively impacted your credit score, it won’t just be your hospital that may have a problem with your debt.

A poor credit score can prevent you from making purchases, finding housing or even landing a job. That can be especially discouraging when that credit score is the result of someone else’s negligent actions.

If you have questions about a personal injury case and how to pay your medical bills, call a personal injury lawyer, like a personal injury lawyer today.