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Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Liens for Services to Minor Patients

Wednesday, September 5, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Adrienne Hersh, ICS Legal Counsel
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Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Health Care Liens for Services to Minor Patients

 

Does Illinois law permit health care providers to file and enforce health care liens for services to minor patients (persons under 18 years of age) who have been injured in negligence cases?  The short answer is “yes,” as recently confirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court.

In 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court heard the case of Manago v. County of Cook (2017 IL 121078), in which Stroger Hospital of Cook County attempted to enforce its health care lien for hospital services it had provided to a minor patient.  The trial and appellate courts ruled held that the hospital did not have a valid lien under the Health Care Services Lien Act (Lien Act).  

The appellate court gave two reasons for its ruling.  The first was a technical finding based on the Illinois Family Expense Act that the minor patient did not have the right to recover medical expenses from the negligent party, because medical expenses are the parents’ legal responsibility. The second reason was that, although a $200,000 judgment was rendered in favor of the minor at trial, none of that amount was for medical expenses, so the hospital lien could not attach to the judgment. Both the trial court and appellate courts concluded the hospital’s lien was to be voided under these circumstances.

The hospital appealed the case to the Illinois Supreme Court, arguing that the trial and appellate courts had improperly extinguished the hospital’s lien. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed, finding that the earlier court decisions were made by “improperly adding conditions and exceptions to the Lien Act’s clear and unambiguous terms.”  The court cited language from the Lien Act saying that a provider has a lien “upon all claims and causes of action of the injured person” and that the lien “shall attach to any verdict, judgment, award, settlement . . . by or on behalf of the injured person…” The court emphasized that the language is broad and clear; there is no requirement that a portion of the judgment be for medical expenses for a lien to be valid and to attach to the judgment.  Instead, the court found the Lien Act creates a “property interest in any assets constituting the [plaintiff’s] recovery.” The court was saying that a lien is valid against any award made to a plaintiff, even if the total award does not include medical expenses (i.e., the award could include other types of compensation such as pain and suffering, lost time at work, or other damages).

Additionally, the Illinois Supreme Court found that “the age of the injured person is not a factor in determining whether a lien attaches.”  Therefore, the fact that the injured party was a minor is irrelevant, and a health care lien on services rendered to a minor is valid and enforceable under the plain meaning of the Lien Act.

The Illinois Supreme Court opinion was published on September 21, 2017.  However, some of our members report continuing challenges to their liens for treatment to minor patients.  The ICS speculates that some stakeholders and attorneys may not be aware of the Supreme Court’s reversal of the prior 2016 appellate court decision.  If you are faced with an attorney who disputes your lien based on the patient’s minority, we recommend that you cite the language in the Supreme Court opinion, and, if necessary, present the opinion itself.  We have provided a link to the Illinois Supreme Court opinion at the end of this article.  Of course, the opinion applies to liens that are properly filed according to the Lien Act; the case will not save liens that are incorrectly filed.

If you are unable to amicably resolve a lien for treatment to a minor, you still have the right to file a petition to adjudicate the lien.  The ICS provides forms and other resources to members for the correct filing and adjudication of liens.  These forms are appropriate for cases involving patients of any age.  

Manago v. County of Cook (2017 IL 121078)
http://www.illinoiscourts.gov/Opinions/SupremeCourt/2017/121078.pdf

ICS Article on Liens (including form): https://www.ilchiro.org/news/news.asp?id=128136 

 

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