A Georgia appellate court has issued a decision exploring the requirements for perfecting a medical services lien set out at OCGA § 44-14-471, particularly the requirement of written notice to the alleged tortfeasor and the alleged tortfeasor’s insurer.
On January 20, 2012, Kennestone Hospital, Inc., d/b/a WellStar Kennestone Hospital, mailed its patient, David Pruitt, a notice of its intent to file a lien for the medical treatment and services it had provided to him following a motor vehicle collision. Kennestone filed its lien on February 9, 2012.
Before filing the lien, Kennestone attempted to identify the alleged tortfeasor and her insurer by telephoning Mr. Pruitt and by twice attempting to locate the accident report. It left a voice mail for Mr. Pruitt, which Kennestone said was not returned, and the Georgia Department of Public Safety informed Kennestone that no accident report had been found.
On March 6, 2012, after it had filed the lien, Kennestone was made aware that Mr. Pruitt had hired an attorney to potentially pursue filing a personal injury lawsuit. On that date, as well as on April 27, 2012, Kennestone attempted to contact the attorney but failed to make contact. It again attempted to contact the attorney on June 12, 2012 and September 19, 2012.
Kennestone made further unsuccessful attempts to locate the accident report on March 6, 2012, April 27, 2012, June 12, 2012, June 13, 2012, September 19, 2012, and September 28, 2012.
On December 13, 2012, Kennestone received the accident report, which identified Ginger Gentry and her insurer, Allstate Fire & Casualty Insurance Company.
Kennestone sent a notice of the lien to Allstate on December 20, 2012. It never sent notice to Ms. Gentry.
Thereafter, Kennestone sued Allstate to enforce its lien.
The parties moved for summary judgment. Allstate argued that Kennestone had failed to perfect its lien under OCGA § 44-14-471 because it had not sent notice of the lien to Ms. Gentry.
For its part, Kennestone countered that during the time period for providing notice, it had not identified the alleged tortfeasor, despite exercising due diligence, so it had nowhere to send the notice. It also argued that the statute did not require notice to the tortfeasor after the lien had been filed.
The trial court granted summary judgment to Kennestone on its claims.
OCGA § 44-14-471(a) provides that to perfect a lien for the provision of medical services, a hospital:
(1) Shall, not less than 15 days prior to the date of filing the statement required under paragraph (2) of this subsection, provide written notice to the patient and, to the best of the claimant’s knowledge, the persons . . . and their insurers claimed by the injured person or the legal representative of the injured person to be liable for damages arising from the injuries . . . ; and
(2) Shall file in the office of the clerk of the superior court of the county in which the hospital . . . is located and in the county wherein the patient resides, if a resident of this state, a verified statement setting forth the name and address of the patient as it appears on the records of the hospital . . . ; the name and location of the hospital . . . ; the dates of admission and discharge of the patient therefrom . . . ; and the amount claimed to be due for the hospital.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
The appellate court affirmed.
In its decision, the appellate court explained that hospitals must file the statements described in Section 44-14-471(a)(2) within 75 days after the patient is discharged from the hospital. The appellate court added that because the written notice of Section 44-14-471(a)(1) must be provided not less than 15 days before the verified statement of Section 44-14-471(a)(2) is filed, and the verified statement of Section 44-14-471(a)(2) must be filed within 75 days of a patient’s discharge, then the written notice of Section 44-14-471(a)(1) must be provided within 60 days after a patient’s discharge.
In this case, the appellate court reasoned, Kennestone timely filed its lien on February 9, 2012, so it had to provide notice to Mr. Pruitt and, “to the best of [its] knowledge,” to the alleged tortfeasor and her insurer not less than 15 days before then, which was on or before January 25, 2012.
The appellate court pointed out that Kennestone sent that notice to Mr. Pruitt on January 20, 2012.
It also observed that there was no evidence that Kennestone knew the alleged tortfeasor’s or her insurer’s identity on or before January 25, 2012, in spite of exercising due diligence. Accordingly, the appellate court ruled, the record supported the trial court’s conclusion that “[b]ecause Kennestone put forth a diligent effort in obtaining the requisite identities, Kennestone met OCGA § 44-14-471(a)(1)’[s] ‘best of knowledge’ standard in providing notice to all required parties and therefore properly noticed all required parties.”
The appellate court rejected Allstate’s contention that Kennestone’s failure to ever send Ms. Gentry notice invalidated its lien because Kennestone did not know Ms. Gentry’s identity “until well after the time period of OCGA § 44-14-471(a)(1) for providing notice had passed.”
Moreover, the appellate court added, the statute did not require that once Kennestone learned Ms. Gentry’s identity, it was obligated to send notice even though the notice period had passed and the lien had been filed.
The case is Allstate Fire & Casualty Ins. Co. v. Kennestone Hospital, Inc., No. A18A1822 (Ga. Ct. App. Jan. 3, 2019).
Steven A. Meyerowitz is the director of FC&S Legal, editor-in-chief of the Insurance Coverage Law Report and founder and president of Meyerowitz Communications Inc.