Michael J. Sacopulos, Esq.
Several months ago the South Carolina Appellate Court issued a scary opinion (Burke V. AnMed Health). A standard medical malpractice case had come before a trial court in South Carolina. Prior to trial, the defense attorney asked that prospective jurors who owed bad debts and judgments to the healthcare provider be excluded from the jury. The trial court Judge did exclude several potential jurors who had judgments against them by the healthcare provider, but the Judge refused to excuse several jurors who owed debts to the medical provider. One $250,000 judgment later, the defendant appealed the matter to the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals refused to establish a bright line rule that would categorically exclude any juror who had been referred to a collection agency resulting from a failure to pay a debt to one of the parties in litigation. The Appeals Court also confirmed the lower Court’s judgment of the $250,000 award to plaintiffs. This means that in South Carolina, and potentially other states, your former patient that you turned over to a collection agency may be sitting in judgment on a medical malpractice claim against you.
I am not suggesting that medical providers give up pursuing accounts that are owed to their practice. However, this recent ruling out of South Carolina does underscore the importance of how debts should be collected. It seems that if a medical provider had used a law firm and obtained a judgment against the debtor, that debtor would be excluded from a jury pool. Collection agencies typically attempt to recover the funds by telephone and letter campaigns as well as the use of credit bureaus. For the sake of defending against the medical malpractice claim, it would seem that you are better to turn past due accounts over to a collection law firm rather than a collection agency. Lawyers that practice in this area of the law typically are members of the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys.