Scruggs Law Firm, Oxford, Miss., said it did not expect a ruling in a class-action lawsuit against University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to affect the outcome of litigation nationwide over hospitals' billing of uninsured patients. The case against UPMC was brought on behalf of uninsured patients by a Monroeville, Pa., attorney and is separate from dozens of similar class-action suits brought by a consortium of law firms led by attorney Richard Scruggs. All of the suits, however, allege that not-for-profit hospitals, in violation of their charitable standing, charge uninsured patients too much for care and are too aggressive in trying to collect payments.
In recommending that the UPMC case be dismissed, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Robert Mitchell in Pittsburgh said the hospital's tax exemption did not create a contract with the federal government requiring the hospital to provide affordable medical care to all patients. The decision was reported late Tuesday afternoon on modernhealthcare.com after the Daily Dose was distributed. The plaintiffs may appeal to a district court judge. "While we have not seen a copy of the magistrate's report, we do note that the magistrate's recommendations do not address state issues," the Scruggs firm said in a statement. "For lawyers of defendant hospitals to simply jump on this single case and attempt to apply it to our litigation or any of the settlement discussions we are having . . . is a foolhardy tactic and misleading to the public marketplace."
Separately, a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco dismissed federal claims brought against Sutter Health, Sacramento, as part of the consortium's suits. The judge said state claims could be filed again in state court. A statement from Scruggs said the firm had sought to try the suit in state court anyway, but the case was removed to federal court at the request of Sutter. -- by Paul Barr