November 6, 2007 in City

Ambulance overbilling trial postponed over documents

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque expressed frustration Monday that attorneys on both sides of an ambulance company overbilling lawsuit haven’t reached agreement on the production of documents and patients’ names before a trial can occur.

The jury trial in the 2-year-old class action lawsuit against American Medical Response had been scheduled to begin this week, but it now likely won’t occur until sometime next fall.

Seattle attorney Paul Dayton, representing AMR, and attorneys Roger Reed and Adam Tait, representing a group of Spokane residents who were overbilled by the ambulance company, were in court Monday seeking a new trial date and arguing over release of documents.

The judge gave Dayton and Reed until Friday to draft a list detailing areas of agreement and disagreement and outline a process for resolving those differences. “If it’s not done, the court will do it by order,” the judge told the attorneys.

Since 1999, American Medical Response has had an exclusive contract to provide ambulance service in the city of Spokane. Because city taxpayers fund Fire Department emergency medical services, city residents can only be charged certain rates if a fire paramedic accompanies the ambulance crew to a hospital.

At the core of the litigation is how many of those patients were transported by AMR ambulances in the past eight years.

Reed told the court he won’t be ready for trial until AMR is forced to disclose a complete list of city residents who were overbilled, going back to 1999. Those customers were charged the more-expensive “advanced life support” rate when they should have been charged the cheaper “basic life support” rate if a city fire paramedic was involved in the ride-in treatment.

The plaintiff’s attorneys estimated there could be as many as 30,000 city residents affected by the class action suit. After all potential members of the class action are identified, each will have to be formally notified, probably through mass-mailing and public advertising. They will be given the chance to opt out of the lawsuit if they aren’t interested in pursuing damages.

Another one of the remaining areas of dispute involves an estimated 20,000 city residents who were transported by AMR between January 2003 and October 2005. The ambulance company voluntarily audited those bills for that period and agreed to make $320,689 in refunds.

Some of those refunds went to insurance companies, at discounted rates, or Medicare, which paid the ambulance bills. Reed argued to the court that even if an ambulance bill was paid by Medicare or an insurance company, those residents still may be entitled to interest and treble damage awards under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.


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