Premier Physicians Group v. Navarro (CA1 7/28/15)


[LATER NOTE: This opinion was re-issued on October 1, 2015; the new opinion appears to be almost identical to the old]

Discussing the time for filing a doctor’s lien. This won’t interest those members of the health care professions who file liens approximately 37 seconds after the patient walks though the door, which is after the patient’s lawyer signs a contract agreeing to pay fees that will never actually be charged the patient. But it may be useful to those who don’t specialize in treating “accident victims.” We’re just going to report this one, not editorialize.

Navarro’s auto insurer settled a claim against her arising out of an accident but for reasons unexplained neither it nor the claimant paid one of the doctors. So the doctor, who had filed a lien, sued Navarro to enforce it. Navarro argued that the lien was untimely. The doctor treated from June  to October and filed the lien in September; the statute says it must be filed “before or within thirty days after . . . any services” relating to the accident. Navarro argued that this means within thirty days of the first service; the doctor argued that it means within thirty days of the last. The trial court agreed with Navarro and dismissed the Complaint.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals doesn’t agree with either side and meanders its way to a middle ground. The statute can’t mean last service because the hospital-lien statute allows a lien to be filed after discharge whereas this statute says “before or within thirty days” so there must be a difference, therefore only hospitals can file after the last service. And it can’t mean first service because it doesn’t say “first.” So the statute means this: a doctor’s lien applies to services rendered within the thirty days previous to its filing and to all services thereafter.

Under that theory the doctor’s lien did catch some of the services so the court remands.

Well, maybe we’ll editorialize a little. Is the result correct? Possibly. But what a heckuva way of getting  there. If the absence of “first” is determinative of Navarro’s argument then why isn’t the absence of “last” determinative – or even worth mentioning – regarding the doctor’s argument? Especially when the essence of your own argument is that the statute can’t mean first or last because it doesn’t say “first” or “last”? And why does the hospital statute make its procedure exclusive? What – other than assuming that conclusion – suggests exclusivity? Aren’t there differences between doctors and hospitals? Aren’t the parties right – isn’t the question here what “any” means? Does the opinion largely read that word out of the statute?

(link to opinion)