Legal Question in Credit and Debt Law in Illinois

Length of time a doctor bill can be sent after surgery

My son had malrotation surgery in December 1997. My fiance' at the time, now my husband had very good insurance. Everything was covered but, this bill of over $4,000. We were first notified in the spring of 1999 that we owed this balance, again in the summer of 1999. By this time me husband had changed jobs, which meant we no longer had this insurance. The finding is that the date they put on the insurance activation enrollment for my son's coverage was January 1998. My husband has no proof that that date was not on there when he signed the form. However, every other doctor bill was covered. And the people in which helped us with the insurance enrollment are no longer with the company. Do we ask the insurance company to investigate this? We are afraid we may owe the cost of his surgery which is over $50,000. Can the doctor's office continue to bill us for something which is almost three years ago? Is there a statute of limitations in length in which a doctor can bill you? The doctor herself was having difficulty with her billing agency, so she switched. Is it right for the patients to have to suffer financially for somebody else's mistake? Do we owe this money? Please help us. We do not have that kind of money.

Asked on 10/07/00, 9:24 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Lawrence A. Stein Aronberg Goldgehn Davis & Garmisa, LLC

Re: Length of time a doctor bill can be sent after surgery

In Illinois, the statute of limitations for this type of claim is proabably five years, meaning that the doctor has five years from the date of the surgery, or the date on which you acknowledged the debt, whichever is later, to file a suit. If she fails to do so, the claim is forever barred by law. Even if she files suit in time, the claim may still be barred by the doctrine of "laches," which provides that if a claimant waits so long to file a suit, even if the statute of limitations has not passed, the claim can be barred if the length of time prejudiced your rights. In this case, the length of time may have prejudiced your rights to obtain payment from your insurer, though if you did not have insurance there were no rights to prejudice.

First, do not write or speak to the doctor about the debt. Any acknowledgement of the debt restarts the five year period running. Second, do not ask the insurer to investigate, assuming the doctor presented the claim to the insurer. Any investigation may cause the insurer to seek to recoup the entire cost of the surgery from you. Finally, if you are sued, within or after the five year period, hire a lawyer to represent you in the suit, because if you do not propoerly present your defenses of the statute of limiations and laches, the court will not consider them and the defenses will be considered waived.

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Answered on 11/04/00, 12:45 pm

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