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Judges rule against hospital in fee suit

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Citing caselaw that goes back 120 years, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a Marion Superior judge’s dismissal of a complaint against a central Indiana hospital pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 12(B)(6). The appellate court held that the plaintiffs’ complaint, which challenged the reasonableness of the fees the hospital charged the uninsured patients, states a claim for breach of contract.

Abby Allen and Walter Moore filed a lawsuit against Clarian Health Partners claiming Clarian breached its contract with them and other uninsured recipients by charging them unreasonable fees after receiving medical treatment at a Clarian medical center in Carmel. Before they were treated, both signed the standard form of contract agreeing to pay their accounts, but those contracts didn’t specify a price or fee schedule for the services to be provided. Neither Allen nor Moore had health insurance. They were charged based on Clarian’s “chargemaster” rates, and Allen’s bill was later submitted to a collection agency.

The plaintiffs aren’t asking for charges to be waived; they are asking  the judge to declare the chargemaster rates billed to uninsured patients to be unreasonable and unenforceable. The trial court granted Clarian’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

Addressing several issues, including whether the contract was breached and if the contracts unambiguously required payment, the COA ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding because no price was specified in the contracts, Allen and Moore only agreed to pay a reasonable charge for Clarian’s services. The judges cited several cases dating back to 1888 to support their holding, including the recent Indiana Supreme Court decision Stanley v. Walker, 906 N.E.2d 852, 856-57 (Ind. 2009). They declined to consider foreign rulings that Clarian cited which found hospitals aren’t held to the same reasonableness standard in the interpretation of their contracts for medical services.

“Here, the contracts provided by Clarian make no direct or indirect reference to the chargemaster or any other fee schedule, and the price for services to be rendered is, therefore, a missing and essential term,” wrote Judge Edward Najam in Abby Allen and Walter Moore v. Clarian Health Partners, Inc., No. 49A02-1011-CT-1174. “Hence, it is well settled under Indiana law that a reasonable fee is implied. Consistent with that law, Allen and Moore alleged in their complaint that Clarian charged them an unreasonable price. That allegation, if true, would constitute a breach of contract.”

The COA also declined to hold that Allen and Moore agreed to pay whatever amount Clarian charged, as that would be an unreasonable, if not absurd, interpretation of the contract, wrote the judge. The court remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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