Profits over People - Big Insurance finds another way to cash in on injured people


The latest investigative piece published in the News Tribune this week, entitled “MultiCare sues estate of boy killed in Tacoma Dome accident, outlines a struggle that lawyers representing injured people in Washington State have been dealing with for years.  And this struggle highlights the hypocrisy and greed frequently demonstrated by Big Insurance.

The story in the News Tribune, dated August 3, details the sad story of Sebastian Hizey, a young boy who was grievously hurt and eventually died as a result of injuries sustained at a monster truck show at the Tacoma Dome. The healthcare provider, MultiCare, chose to sue the little boy’s estate to recoup the cost of his medical care, rather than to bill his insurance company.

In its statement to The News Tribune, the MultiCare representative stood by the practice of filing medical liens, using the excuse that the Washington State Legislature wrote the laws allowing such liens.

However, attorney Darrell Cochran, who represents a group of people suing MultiCare over the issue of these medical liens, has his own take on the situation:

“MultiCare intentionally used the tragic circumstances of this young boy’s death — latching onto the boy’s grieving family and their efforts to hold the monster truck organizers responsible for causing the death of their son — to pursue greater profit than the payments offered by Medicaid…”

I completely agree with Mr. Cochran’s assessment, and it points out the hypocrisy of MultiCare’s position.

The same big insurance companies that lobby Olympia and Washington DC to enact laws that prevent injured people from holding wrongdoers accountable, have absolutely no trouble reaching into those same people’s pockets to grab whatever money they can get their hands on, even if the money is acquired from those same lawsuits for injuries that Big Insurance is seeking to outlaw. 

In this article we are introduced to a medical facility which in 2012 took in $1.7 billion in revenue, making the decision to sue the family of a dead little boy to recover $48,000 in medical expenses, for treatments they claim were provided to him before he died.  While MultiCare claims that their reasoning for suing the boy’s estate is to maximize the organization’s ability to do good works, and that the Washington State legislature wrote the laws allowing this practice, the article also points out that the organization rewards top executives with bonuses and pay raises for finding ways to increase MultiCare’s revenue. Good works indeed…

Unfortunately, this is a common tactic used by hospitals and big insurance companies.  In almost every case where someone is injured and recovers money, before the ink is dry on the check, insurance companies are lining up to get their share.  This is true whether it’s a hospital, a health insurance company, or someone’s short term disability policy.  All of these insurance companies seek reimbursement from their own customers, often customers who have been religiously paying high premiums for years for just those benefits. 

Often, lawyers helping injured people can successfully fend off insurance companies attempting to take money an injured person has recovered.  This is called subrogation, and there are several Washington laws which provide protection for folks who recover money for injuries.  However, this article describes one loophole in Washington law that greedy hospitals use to profit from injured people. 

The lawyers on the case did everything they could to stop this hospital’s unscrupulous action, but in the end were unsuccessful. In October 2011, arbitrator Kenneth Scearce found for MultiCare, saying its charges were reasonable and that it had the legal right to try to collect. In his decision, Scearce wrote:

“The law clearly provides that the provider can and in fact must seek recovery from the settlement funds paid by the third party payor since Medicaid is only a last resort.”  

The only way we can prevent Big Insurance from engaging in this hypocritical and greedy practice is to enact changes in the law regarding medical liens and medical insurance for folks who have been hurt by someone else.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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