Med-Trans Corporation faces a proposed class action centered on the billing company’s efforts to collect the costs of emergency helicopter air ambulance transports.
The plaintiff claims in the 13-page lawsuit that no contractual relationship or agreement exists between patients and Med-Trans Corporation, and that the company bills for amounts that “vastly exceed” both the true cost of providing emergency air transportation and the fair market value of the trip.
Filed in South Carolina, the case explains first responders generally determine when it’s necessary for a patient to be transported to a hospital via helicopter. Given the emergency nature of such situations, patients are often transported via helicopter without their knowledge or express consent and while under duress, the suit says, noting express or informed consent or negotiation of the essential terms governing the transport are difficult, if not impossible, “because the patient is either unconscious or otherwise incapable” of consenting.
After an emergency air transport is complete, Med-Trans will send a patient a statement for the trip showing a “base rate” and “mileage” charge while demanding payment, the suit relays. Though both the base and mileage rates that will be charged by the defendant are known to Med-Trans prior to air transit, the amount is not published on the company’s website or otherwise disclosed, the lawsuit says, adding that documents signed prior to a transport are similarly devoid of the price to be charged.
As the case tells it, the defendant’s practice of not disclosing the price is somewhat of an industry tactic, and the company ultimately keeps that information to itself until it’s time to bill:
“The refusal by Defendant to disclose prices is consistent with its longstanding argument that its pricing is some sort of trade secret. However, Defendant ultimately does publicly disclose its pricing to Plaintiffs in their billing statement. Nevertheless, Defendant refuses to disclose its pricing information to prospective transport patients.”
Under the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA), however, Med-Trans is “vested with the plenary power to set whatever price they choose” for patients, who effectively have no opportunity to decide whether they want or need transportation, the lawsuit says. Moreover, courts are powerless to decide on issues related to the “arbitrary and inflated” prices imposed after the fact by the defendant, the suit states.
Given these conditions, the case says, patients who did not enter into an express contract with the defendant fall into “a quirky corner of the legal universe” in that without a written contract, there is no way for Med-Trans to establish any right to collect fees for what it deems a breach of contract.
The plaintiff asks that the court rule those without a signed written contract prior to being transported by Med-Trans are under no obligation to pay the company under the Airline Deregulation Act, and that the absence of a price term fails to establish the existence of a contract “unless common law with respect to an implied contract supplies a reasonable price term.”
The plaintiff further alleges that when Med-Trans does not receive payment, the company “initiates collections, reports the amount charged as an unpaid bill to credit reporting agencies, engages in collection efforts, seeks to enforce liens, and initiates lawsuits in state courts,” among other actions. According to the lawsuit, the defendant engages in numerous collection-related actions despite that the price of emergency air transportation is never disclosed and agreed upon and that the company knew prior to the trip what price it would charge.
“Defendant has the option to negotiate an agreed rate with Plaintiffs’ insurers,” the complaint says. “However, Defendant has traditionally failed or refused to enter such negotiations preferring, instead, to impose charges unilaterally after the Plaintiff and Class Members already had been transported.”
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