An EMT pushing a stretcher into an ambulance

Who Pays Medical Bills in a Non-Fault Car Accident?

November 9, 2023

The UK has both a ‘fault-based’ approach to car accidents, as well as a National Health Service. While the NHS guarantees free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare for anyone who falls ill or needs emergency treatment while living in the UK, the ‘fault-based’ highway code stipulates that those responsible for causing a car accident are financially responsible for any damages (both physical and material) that an accident may cause.

So, what happens if you get into a non-fault car accident in the UK and need extensive medical treatment that goes beyond standard NHS care? While the NHS will cover any emergency care you may need, you still may be able to claim compensation to go private if you’re seriously injured.

But what happens if you’re driving abroad when a no-fault accident occurs? While most countries also have a fault-based approach to road accidents, it’s crucial to understand your provider’s claims process in order to ensure that your medical bills will be paid. Sounds confusing? It’s not - let’s take a closer look.

Determining The Party At Fault

Before determining who bears the medical costs incurred via a road accident, it’s pivotal to establish the party at fault. As mentioned above, any person responsible for causing a car accident in the UK is also financially responsible for the damage they've caused, and this may include medical bills (although this is more likely referred to as compensation, rather than medical costs). This is known as a non fault accident claim.

In most cases, the determination of fault is generally either made by police officers at the scene, photo and video evidence analysed by insurance companies, or in some cases, through legal action.

Medical Expenses in Non-Fault Accidents

If you're in a car accident and it's determined that you're not at fault, typically, the at-fault driver's insurance should cover your medical bills. However, this might not be immediate; if you’re abroad, you may need to initially cover the costs, especially if the other party disputes the claim or if their insurance company is slow to process.

The Role of Health Insurance

Outside the UK, where healthcare isn't always free, health insurance plays a significant role (which is why it’s always important to have travel insurance before voyaging!). If you've incurred medical expenses due to the accident, your health insurance might initially cover the costs, and once the at-fault party's insurance is sorted, they will often reimburse the health insurance provider.

But remember, using your health insurance might mean you're responsible for excess or out-of-pocket expenses.

a pen and stethoscope on top of a document

Seeking Compensation from the At-Fault Driver's Insurance

Once the at-fault driver is identified, you (or your legal representative) will usually be able to file a claim with their insurer for your medical expenses. It's important to document all medical treatments, prescriptions, and any other related costs; clear documentation helps in facilitating a smooth claim process.

If a car accident occurs abroad, this can end up being a complicated process; language differences, cultural differences and different insurance practices can make it a lengthy and often-times stressful process.

Subrogation: Reimbursement and Recovery

‘Subrogation’ is a term you may have already come across if you're doing some research into the world of insurance claims post-accident. In short, subrogation refers to the right of an insurance company (more often than not your health or car insurer) to recover funds they paid for your medical treatment from the at-fault driver's insurance.

Once this has been successfully retrieved by your insurer, the funds will then be used to pay for any of your outstanding medical bills or repairs for your vehicle. Don’t forget that you’ll still need to prove that the funds acquired are going to be used to cover damage from the accident; this is where hospital reports come in useful.

Out-of-Pocket Expenses and Future Medical Costs

While the at-fault driver's insurance may cover the immediate medical expenses resulting from the accident, some costs might not be directly covered. These can include out-of-pocket expenses such as medications, physiotherapy sessions, and any travel costs related to medical treatment. For example, you may need to take a repeat prescription (e.g., a pain medication) for a prolonged period of time after an accident, and as the NHS states on their official website, prescriptions aren’t automatically free to all UK citizens.

Additionally, it's important to account for potential future medical expenses, especially if the injuries sustained have long-term implications. It’s not uncommon for certain car injuries to manifest or worsen over time, necessitating future treatments or therapies. When negotiating a settlement or making a claim, ensure that provisions are made for such eventualities. You should also keep in mind that once a settlement is agreed upon, you might not have the option to claim further costs down the line - so get professional assistance and cover every possible eventuality.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you feel as though you’ve been given the short-straw during the process, or if you’re simply unhappy with an ongoing fault dispute, hiring a solicitor or working with a professional who specialises in car accidents can be beneficial.

An expert will be able to assist in ensuring that all your medical bills are accurately documented and that all potential costs – both immediate and future – are taken into consideration. Plus, if there's a dispute about who is at fault, or if the at-fault party's insurance company is reluctant to pay, having professional representation can make the difference between a smooth claim process and a drawn-out, protracted legal battle.

More importantly, professional solicitors will also have the experience and knowledge to handle the tactics that insurance companies may employ to minimise payouts; in short, they'll guide you through the process, ensuring you receive fair compensation and that all medical expenses are adequately covered.

The Bottom Line

Being involved in a non-fault car accident is an undoubtedly traumatic experience, and for some, the subsequent path to returning to full health can be a difficult, non-linear, challenging one. While the at-fault driver's insurance is typically liable in most countries and certainly in the UK, it's essential to be proactive, document all expenses, consider potential future costs, and be prepared to advocate for your rights.