Hospitals celebrated a decision by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation against consolidating 28 class-action lawsuits alleging hospitals' billing and collection practices are unfair to uninsured patients. "Centralization would neither serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses nor further the just and efficient conduct of this litigation," the panel said in its ruling. Plaintiffs' attorneys who filed the lawsuits sought consolidation as a "tactical" move "intended to streamline the process," according to a statement from Mississippi attorney Richard Scruggs, who leads the coalition. The decision doesn't bear on the cases' legal merits, Scruggs said.
The American Hospital Association, a defendant in the suits, said the panel's decision means cases will proceed individually in federal district courts. "The best place for the decisions to be made is in the communities in which (the hospitals) operate," said Melinda Hatton, vice president and chief Washington counsel for the AHA. "This is good news," said an attorney for another defendant, Phoebe Putney Health System, Albany, Ga. "The court has agreed with us by not granting consolidation, and we are optimistic that the court would agree on the larger issues as well." -- by Paul Barr