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Judge allows delay in ambulance bill trial

Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque on Friday granted a trial delay in a class action lawsuit alleging overbilling practices in the city of Spokane by American Medical Response.

The delay was sought by a private attorney representing plaintiffs in the case.

The judge said it was important for the “court to be cautious” in such lawsuits to ensure all potential plaintiffs in a class action can be identified and become involved.

“We’re going to continue it,” Leveque said, telling attorneys he will pick a date in August for the jury trial, where damages will be sought against AMR, the nation’s largest ambulance company.

Attorney D. Roger Reed requested the delay because he has not received city records identifying a complete list of patients who received care from Spokane Fire Department paramedics before being transported to hospitals by AMR ambulance.

The lawsuit he filed in 2005 on behalf of two city residents later was expanded to a class action, and Reed is now trying to identify by name all potential plaintiffs. Those affected would be city residents transported by AMR ambulances responding to 911 calls going back to 1998.

Since then, AMR has had exclusive contracts with the city of Spokane to provide ambulance service inside the city.

“If they were transported and overcharged, they are a member of this class action,” Reed told the court at Friday’s hearing.

AMR’s attorney, Paul Dayton, of Seattle, participated via telephone and opposed delaying the scheduled April trial.

“This case has been in the newspaper for over a year,” Dayton said. “We want to get this case resolved. We want to pay anybody who’s owed money.”

The judge said legal documents filed by Reed show evidence of discrepancies in city records released so far, including “medical incident response” reports, which don’t match a larger number of reported patient transports.

Medical incident reports document cases when a Fire Department paramedic accompanies the patient to the hospital in an AMR ambulance. In those instances, the ambulance company can bill city residents only at a lower fixed rate.

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