Lawsuit claims Prospect Medical violated FCC medical debt collection law with robo-dialing

Santa Ana, Calif.-based hospital chain Prospect Medical Group is facing a class-action lawsuit concerning its use of patient cell phone numbers in medical debt collection practices, according to the official complaint.

The lawsuit filed Jan. 16 targets Prospect Medical Group's Southern California Hospital in Culver City. The suit alleges the hospital either negligently or willfully violated provisions in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act when it used an automated robo-dialer to call patient Donna Ratliff on her cellphone to collect a medical debt without her express consent. 

Ms. Ratliff brought the suit individually and behalf of all others similarly situated, according to the complaint.

In the FCC's interpretive ruling issued in July, the regulatory commission requires medical debt collectors to garner express consent before robo-dialing a cellphone number for collection purposes, according to Huggins Law Firm.

"This and other consumer regulatory issues are going to become more prominent for hospitals as they increasingly look to patients for payment," David Esquivel of Nashville, Tenn.-based Bass, Berry & Simms told Becker's Hospital Review.

"It appears the key issue in this case will be consent. Did the plaintiff provide her phone number to the hospital as part of the admissions process?" Mr. Esquivel adds. "If so, the hospital has a good argument that she gave consent for this call."

Consumer TCPA cases against debt collectors have steadily increased over the past few years, according to ACA International. In 2007, only 14 TCPA cases were filed. That number spiked to more than 1,000 in 2012. 

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