Two Tulsans have sued EMSA seeking class-action status for members of the agency’s utility fee program they claim were fraudulently charged for ambulance service despite paying the fee.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in Tulsa County District Court by Priscilla Johnson and Evan Hughes. It seeks class-action status for residents enrolled in EMSA’s monthly utility fee program “who received services provided by EMSA, and who were subsequently charged for, paid, or were sued by EMSA for fees arising from EMSA services.”
EMSA CEO Steve Williamson said through a spokeswoman that the agency had not seen the lawsuit. He declined to comment because it is a pending legal matter. EMSA has said its billing practices are “thorough and can be trusted.”
The utility fee program provides ambulance service for all permanent members of a household enrolled in it. EMSA bills insurance and says it will pay any out-of-pocket costs.
Residents in Tulsa pay $3.64 per month on their utility bills while those in Oklahoma City pay $3.65. Residents of Tulsa and Oklahoma City are automatically enrolled in the program unless they opt out.
The cities of Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs along with Oklahoma City suburbs Edmond, Bethany, The Village, Mustang and Warr Acres have similar programs.
“EMSA has knowingly and intentionally engaged in the practice of charging Class Members for `out-of-pocket’ expenses … and when payment was not received, has proceeded with collection efforts,” the lawsuit states.
“EMSA’s use of process was primarily for the improper purpose of extorting money from people EMSA knew were covered by the TotalCare Program, and thus owed no money to EMSA. … EMSA and its collections counsel primarily pursued those people least acquainted with the law and least able to protect themselves from abuses both by EMSA and its collections counsel,” the lawsuit alleges.
Records show Johnson was transported by ambulance after a drunken driver struck her car in October 2007, about four months after the EMSA utility program started in Tulsa. EMSA sued Johnson in 2009 and won a judgment for more than $1,000. Records show she was enrolled in the utility program when it began in 2007 and never opted out of it.
Hughes, 32, was transported twice in 2010 for an illness and lived in a condominium owned by his mother, Mary Pezold. Pezold said she had not signed a waiver form opting out of the program, as required in multifamily housing units that want to opt out.
Pezold said her son received bills from EMSA for the transports and wrote a letter stating the property was enrolled in the program. She said EMSA turned the account over to a collections agency anyway.
The suit claims breach of contract, “unjust enrichment” and violation of plaintiffs’ rights to due process under the 14th Amendment. It seeks damages in excess of $75,000.
The suit also seeks an order vacating court judgments against class members. It also seeks “disgorgement by EMSA of all profits realized for EMSA’s breaches” and an order requiring the agency “to ensure that any person to whom a statement for services is rendered has opted out of EMSA’s TotalCare program.”
Records show EMSA has filed at least 1,300 small-claims lawsuits against residents in Tulsa and Oklahoma City since 2009.
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