EMS can be full of interesting and tricky legal scenarios. While you can’t have an attorney ride with you, it behooves providers to have at least some familiarity with the principles, precedents, and major issues of EMS law. To that end EMS World is pleased to offer the EMS Legal Lesson of the Month.
These cases are presented by prominent attorneys in the EMS field. This month’s comes from Larry Bennett, program chair for fire science and emergency management at the University of Cincinnati. Bennett’s department publishes a monthly Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter; subscribe to that by e-mailing Lawrence.firstname.lastname@example.org or read the latest edition here. Find this case and more in his section on EMS cases.
Case:Schneberger, Stidman, and Trent v. Air Evac EMS
Verdict:The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals held a claim by plantiffs over exorbitant air-transport rates was properly dismissed.
Facts:Susan Schneberger, Lacy Stidman, and Johnny Trent sued on behalf of themselves and other patients, claiming air-ambulance operatorsin Oklahoma charged unreasonably high rates for their services. Schneberger’s husband was transported 416 miles by EagleMed, but his insurer refused payment, leaving the Schnebergers owing more than $53,000. Stidman was flown 67 miles by EagleMed; her insurance paid a bit more than $15,000, leaving her with a bill for almost $20,000. Trent was transported 106 miles by Air Evac and charged more than $45,000. The plaintiffs argued these charges far exceeded both the cost of the transport and its fair market value. All three accounts ultimately went to collections.
The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the basis that state-law claims were preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act. The statutory preemption provision says the following:
"Except as provided in this subsection, a state…may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart."
While sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ policy arguments, the District Court judge dismissed the suit.
Key quote:“Like the district court in this case, we have previously recognized that [Airline Deregulation Act] preemption may sometimes produce harsh results for potential plaintiffs seeking redress for perceived unfair treatment by air-ambulance carriers… Yet, we felt constrained to observe that ‘[s]uch policy considerations…are beyond the purview of [the courts]’ and ‘must be addressed to Congress.’”
Legal lesson:Like many medical costs, air-ambulance rates can be expensive, but the remedy is with Congress, not the courts.