In a formal response to a lawsuit filed against it, MultiCare Health System contends it has not conspired with a third-party vendor to defraud Pierce County accident victims by filing inappropriate liens against them.
Five Pierce County residents sued the regional health care giant and California-based collections firm Hunter Donaldson last month, claiming they suffered monetary damages because of the alleged fraud.
In a response filed earlier this month, MultiCare denies wrongdoing and asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
“We believe the cases in which Hunter Donaldson has filed medical services liens on behalf of MultiCare Health System were cases where a lien filing was appropriate,” MultiCare said in a statement prepared last week by spokesman Cole Cosgrove.
The health care provider also asks for its attorney fees and other costs to be reimbursed.
“The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs don’t have to pay the hospital out of their settlements because the liens submitted by Hunter Donaldson were defective,” MultiCare said in its statement. “What the lawsuit does not dispute is that MultiCare provided necessary medical services to these individuals after they were injured through the fault of a third party, and there is no applicable commercial insurance covering these losses.”
State law allows hospitals, doctors and some other health care providers to place a lien against money an accident victim might get from successfully suing or settling with the person responsible for his or her injuries.
Health care providers use the liens to recoup costs in cases where accident victims, usually those without insurance, rack up bills they cannot afford to pay.
For instance, Velma Walker, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, incurred medical charges of more than $93,000, according to MultiCare. She paid back a little more than $4,000, leaving a balance of more than $89,000.
MultiCare said in its statement that, by law, medical liens can’t exceed 25 percent of an injured person’s settlement, and that vendors working for hospitals often negotiate a fair recoupment with such patients.
The plaintiffs – Walker, James Stutz, Karl Walthall, Gina Cichon and Melanie Smallwood – claim Hunter Donaldson fraudulently notarized liens filed on MultiCare’s behalf.
MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson “have made substantial profits by utilizing the unfair and deceptive lien practice described herein,” their lawsuit states.
MultiCare breached “its duty of care” to the plaintiffs and potentially thousands of other patients by retaining Hunter Donaldson as a contractor, the lawsuit contends.
Hunter Donaldson has yet to file an answer to the lawsuit, and previous attempts to contact the company for comment were unsuccessful.
Its lawyers asked that the case be moved from Pierce County Superior Court to U.S. District Court, in part because potential damages could exceed $5 million, given the number of liens it has filed on behalf of MultiCare and Mt. Rainier Emergency Physicians, which recently was added as a defendant.
“We recognize that there are separate allegations concerning the notary public involved in those lien filings, and it will be up to the court to determine whether the notary public issues have any impact on the validity of the liens themselves,” MultiCare said in its statement.
In the meantime, MultiCare has suspended the filing of liens on its behalf, its statement said.Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644