Injured while shopping – bill not paid yet

A few months ago, I was in a national chain retail store when a light fixture fell on me.  An employee was nearby when it happened, and saw the whole thing.  The store manager assured me that the store would pay my hospital bill, if I wanted to go get checked.  I did go to the emergency room and had a few x-rays.  I was fine.

I told the hospital the name of the store and the store manager to send the bill.  I’m still getting bills from the hospital.  Do I have to pay them?  What should I do?

Bargain Shopper

Dear Bargain Shopper,

You didn’t mention whether you have health insurance, so I’ll give you both scenarios.

If you have health insurance, give the hospital your ID number.  Then call your health insurer and explain what happened.  They can go after the store to pay your bill.  This is called “third party liability”; it means that someone else is responsible for your bill, other than your health plan.  They may choose not to pursue the store, if it’s just the one emergency room visit.

If you do not have health insurance, write a letter describing the incident, the employee witness, and the store manager’s statement about paying the bill.  You can take the letter into the store and talk to the store manager.  The store manager may not have the authority to pay the bill, but he or she should be able to put you in touch with the store’s risk management department.  A national chain will have people on staff, probably at their headquarters, who deal with customer injuries.  These are the people who need your letter and who can get your hospital bill paid.

You will have to sign a release to allow the store or its insurer to get records of your hospital visit.  Make sure that your release is specific about what records you are allowing them to have.  You don’t want them to go on a “fishing trip” to dig into your health history.

Good luck!

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Linda Riddell

About Linda Riddell

A published author and health policy analyst with 25 years’ experience, Linda Riddell's goal is to alleviate the widespread ailment of not knowing what your health plan can do for you.