Accident victims face setback in MultiCare lawsuit

TACOMA, Wash. -- There was a setback on Friday for thousands of accident victims waiting for insurance settlements. As the KOMO 4 Problem Solvers first reported last May, the case hinges on an-out of-state collections agency and allegedly fraudulent liens.

Friday's judgement means thousands of plaintiffs will have to wait for their day in court. The hearing, which took place in a Pierce County Superior courtroom, revolved around just one case - that of Christina Miesmer.

"Christina Miesmer's not trying to get something for free," said Miesmer's attorney, Darrell Cochran.

But opposing attorney Cori Gordon Moore disagreed.

"It's inaccurate to say that she's entitled to this money, because she's not," Moore said.

At the heart of this are as many as 7,000 accident victims going to a MultiCare-operated hospital or clinics for care. But instead of billing the patient's health insurance, MultiCare and its collection agency, Hunter Donaldson, slapped liens on expected medical settlements - demanding thousands more than insurance would ever pay.

Those estimated 7,000 patients include Melanie Smallwood, who's one of five plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson. That lawsuit is currently hung up in Federal Court.

MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson filed a lien on Smallwood's $40,000 settlement, but Cochran said they never even tried to bill her health insurance. Even worse, Cochran alleges as many as 7,000 liens are fraudulent, saying Hunter Donaldson's notary, Rebecca Rohlke, lied when she listed a Gig Harbor home as her residence in violation of state law.

The Problem Solvers tried to locate Rohlke at that home last summer, but when we asked the woman who answered the door if she was Rolhke she said no and that Rolhke does not live there.

MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson attorneys argued that numerous issues, including whether the liens are fraudulent, have not yet gone before a judge or jury, so it was too early in the process for the summary judgement Cochran wanted. And since the lien in question on Friday on the Miesmer case has expired, the judge ruled that case is no longer valid.

Cochran said at least Miesmer will now get the money from her settlement, but he said MultiCare and Hunter Donaldson intentionally let the lien in Friday case expire as a tactic to prevent a hearing on the merits of the case and he says they've done everything they could to delay the case.

Defense attorneys would not answer questions after the hearing, but in a statement released Friday evening, MultiCare said, "Medical liens are a lawful and common practice for hospitals to seek payment for providing care to patients hurt in accidents. As recognized in today's decisions, these liens are filed against the companies insuring those responsible for causing the injuries, not against the patient who received treatment."

The statement did not address our question as to whether they have intentionally tried to delay the case.