Suit: MultiCare tricking crash victims out of millions of dollars

SEATTLE -- Are car crash victims getting tricked out of millions of dollars in lawful settlements at the hands of local hospitals?

That's the allegation made in a class action lawsuit against MultiCare Health System. The suit claims the scheme involves local hospitals, an out-of-state collection company and fraudulent liens.

Melanie Smallwood still gets nervous remembering the day in November 2010 when two cars rear ended her.

"I tense up and I wind up having an anxiety attack," she said.

Smallwood's car was totaled and she underwent elbow surgery and weeks of painful physical therapy. And then she learned that MultiCare had placed a lien on the $40,000 left of her settlement.

"I was devastated because I was looking forward to having money ... for Christmas, and I was counting on that," she said.

Smallwood is one of five named plaintiffs in a class action suit filed against MultiCare -- which operates many of Pierce County's major hospitals -- and a California collection company called Hunter Donaldson.

Attorney Darrell Cochran said beginning three years ago, MultiCare stopped billing accident victims' insurance companies and began slapping liens on the their potential settlements, demanding thousands more than insurance would ever pay.

"Literally thousands of people have been strong-armed by Hunter Donaldson over the last three years," Cochran said. "We pay for our medical insurance to cover this situation. We work to get our medical insurance and that's what should be taking care of this."

Even worse, Cochran alleges the liens against patients like Smallwood aren't even legal, because Washington liens must be executed and notarized in this state.

The notary on the MultiCare liens -- Rebecca Rohlke -- lists a Gig Harbor home as her residence, but it turns out she doesn't actually live there.

The address Rohlke claims is actually the home address of Jason Adams, the president of MultiCare Consulting and the man who hired the California collection company that hired Rohlke.

Adams also signed Rohlke's notary application, endorsing her integrity and good moral character.

Neither Adams nor any representative from MultiCare would speak about the story, but MultiCare did release a statement on Friday saying it is company policy to only file liens when the patient's insurance is Medicare or Medicaid. Cochran disputes that claim. The company is also reviewing Hunter-Donaldson's lien-filing practices.