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Judge won’t set aside AMR suit

Sat., April 29, 2006

A Superior Court judge has denied a Spokane ambulance company’s request to set aside a lawsuit against it that claims the company overbilled customers.

American Medical Response Northwest Inc., which holds the exclusive contract to provide emergency medical service in Spokane, had sought arbitration rather than allowing a jury to decide whether it violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

Earlier this month, AMR’s attorney, Paul Dayton of Seattle, argued that his client’s contract with the city of Spokane mandates that legal disputes be submitted to arbitration. Even though plaintiffs are not party to the contract, he said, they are relying on the contract to push their claims.

Dayton was unavailable for comment Friday.

Plaintiffs in the case, former AMR patients Lori E. Davis-Bailey and Lorraine and Doug Bacon, are just three of as many as 30,000 patients who each could have been overbilled $100 or so by AMR since 1999, said Roger Reed, the plaintiffs attorney. Reed plans to ask the court in June to expand the case to a class action.

Reed said that arbitration would be far too costly – $12,500 just to begin the process.

“It would be unconscionable to require these class representatives to pay the cost of arbitration,” Reed said.

On Friday, Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque agreed that “costs of arbitration would effectively prohibit their ability to arbitrate.”

Leveque also pointed out that an arbitrator cannot issue an injunction. In this case, plaintiffs are seeking to enjoin AMR from overbilling.

In June, Reed said, he also plans to add another defendant to the suit, Randy Strozyk, of Seattle, AMR’s Northwest area vice president of operations. At a City Council meeting in March, Strozyk took personal responsibility for his company overbilling patients more than $320,000 since 2003.

Reed believes the total amount overbilled since 1999 ranges between $1 million and $5 million, The Spokesman-Review has reported.

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