COA: Debt collector not entitled to attorney fees under agreement

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A company assigned to collect on a woman’s medical debt cannot also collect attorney fees, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The agreement the woman signed with a medical provider that allows for the collection of attorney fees did not apply to the physician group which assigned her debt to the collections company.

Tina Gray received medical services from physicians employed by Emergency Medicine of Indiana P.C. while she was a patient at Dupont Hospital. During her hospital stay she entered into an agreement with Dupont regarding payment. An unpaid $300 balance to Emergency Medicine was assigned to DECA Financial Services for collection. DECA sought the unpaid balance, $150 in attorney fees and $94 in court costs. The small claims judge ordered Gray to pay the unpaid balance and court costs, but found the agreement she entered into with the hospital did not give Emergency Medicine, a separate entity from the hospital, the ability to recover attorney fees.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in DECA Financial Services, LLC v. Tina Gray, 02A04-1311-SC-595.

“DECA asserts that Emergency Medicine’s employees are “facility-based physicians” and that Gray and Dupont’s intent to make Emergency Medicine a third party beneficiary of the attorney’s fees provision is evidenced by the inclusion of ‘facility-based physicians’ in Paragraph 1. Specifically, DECA contends that, because ‘Gray agrees to authorize payment “directly to ... any facility-based physicians”’ in Paragraph 1, Emergency Medicine is inherently authorized to recover attorney’s fees for non-payment under Paragraph 2,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

“DECA’s contention overlooks the context of Paragraph 1, which states: ‘I hereby assign and authorize payment directly to the Facility, and to any facility-based physician, all insurance benefits ... .’ Thus, even if we were to conclude that Emergency Medicine is a third party beneficiary under Paragraph 1, its third party benefits would be limited to the provisions of that paragraph. Nothing in the language of Paragraph 1 indicates an intent to make Emergency Medicine a third party beneficiary under Paragraph 2. Therefore, we conclude that the agreement does not entitle Emergency Medicine to attorney’s fees.”



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