It was a Sunday night and 39-year-old breast-cancer survivor Blanche Jordan was just sitting down to do a puzzle in her living room when she heard a knock on her door. Following social distancing guidelines because she is high-risk, she put a mask on before opening the door and was greeted by a process server who handed her papers and said “You’ve been served.” To Jordan’s dismay, the hospital that she had just recently paid off a debt weeks prior for a surgery not covered by her health insurance was suing her for $7,150 for unrelated medical services.
A lawsuit was the last thing she expected during the Coronavirus outbreak. Unfortunately, Jordan is not the only one facing a lawsuit during a global pandemic.
A Rising Trend
Wisconsin, like the rest of the nation and most of the world, has been significantly changed over the past few weeks due to the Coronavirus outbreak. On March 12, Wisconsin declared a public health emergency. Nonetheless, law firms representing health systems in Wisconsin continue to sue patients over past-due medical debt. According to a report published by Wisconsin Watch, of The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, hospitals in the state have filed at least 104 lawsuits in small claims courts since March 12th against patients who have medical debt. At least six other health systems have sued patients in the midst of COVID-19.
Jordan’s lawsuit is just one of at least 46 lawsuits filed by Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital. While the hospital’s spokesman advised that it has suspended filing small claims lawsuits as of March 18 in response to the pandemic, court records showed at least 18 new lawsuits filed between then and March 31. All 18 of those lawsuits were subsequently dismissed.
Suspension of Suits, Maybe
While many of the health systems responded to news reports by stating legal actions on debt collections have been suspended, in rare cases the lawsuit will be pursued. The reason is to preserve the health system’s rights to pursue the debt, particularly if the debt is old and the statute of limitations on filing suit is about to expire. While this time is difficult, legal actions need to move forward — at least in order to preserve a party’s right under the law so that the action is not barred as a result of the expiration of a contractual or statute of limitations.