March 18, 2006 in City

Ambulance agent still target of suit

Staff writer
 

A Superior Court judge refused on Friday to dismiss the Spokane operations manager for a large ambulance company as a defendant in a consumer protection act lawsuit that alleges a pattern of overbilling patients.

Attorneys for American Medical Response (AMR) sought to have Jerry Lueck, the director of the ambulance company’s operations in Spokane, dismissed from the suit filed in December by Lori E. Davis-Bacon and Lorraine and Doug Bacon, all of Spokane.

They allege they were victims of “unfair and deceptive business practices” by being over-charged for ambulance services in the city of Spokane, where AMR has the exclusive contract.

Their attorney, D. Roger Reed, plans to move to have the suit certified as a class action so he can pursue the litigation on behalf of an estimated 30,000 city patients transported by AMR since 1998.

After listening to an hour of argument on Friday, Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque denied a motion brought by AMR attorney Paul Turner, of Seattle, to partially gut the lawsuit.

The judge, without elaborating, said he agreed with the plaintiffs’ contention that AMR’s regional boss should remain as a defendant and potentially liable.

Turner argued that the state’s Consumer Protection Act does not hold individual employees of a corporation liable for “unfair and deceptive” practices, only corporate officers.

Lueck works for AMR, “but he’s not the actor” who should be the target of the lawsuit, Turner told the court.

AMR – as a corporation – and Lueck, are named as defendants, and Reed said he soon will amend the suit to include Randy Strozyk, the ambulance company’s regional vice president.

Reed told the court that under a five-year contract signed in 2003 with the city of Spokane, Lueck is responsible for administering ambulance services.

“He is individually participating in the very conduct we’re complaining about – that is overbilling,” Reed said. It would defy standing public policy in Washington state to give corporation employees a “free pass” from liability under the consumer protection act, he added.

“We’re talking about intentional conduct that constitutes unfair and deceptive practices,” he said.

After the suit was filed in mid-December, AMR admitted it had overbilled the two plaintiffs.

At a meeting last week of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, Strozyk said AMR has conducted its own audit and admitted overbilling Spokane city residents $320,689 for 911 ambulance services in the past two years.

Turner suggested to the court that the ambulance company may next file a motion for mandatory arbitration to keep the lawsuit from going to a jury trial or becoming a class action.

Reed said he will resist both those legal moves if they develop.

“What AMR is doing here is defying common law and common sense,” Reed said.


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