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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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  2. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  3. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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