Two months after the federal and state governments sued Carolinas HealthCare System over alleged antitrust violations, a San Francisco-based plaintiffs’ law firm has announced it’s looking for people who might have been harmed and could sue for related damages.
In a notice on its website, the 65-lawyer firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein says it’s investigating the Charlotte-based hospital system in connection with the antitrust lawsuit filed in June by the federal Department of Justice and the state attorney general’s office.
The plaintiffs’ law firm, which also has offices in New York, Nashville and Seattle, invites Charlotte-area residents to contact one of its antitrust lawyers “if you believe your insurance may be too expensive.”
The notice says: “If you live and work in or around Charlotte, North Carolina, and have insurance through an employer-sponsored group plan, you may have paid too much for insurance and may have had fewer healthcare options than you should have. Or, if you are a mid- or large-sized business of 51 or more employees you may also have paid too much.”
Brendan Glackin, a partner and antitrust specialist with the firm, said the investigation is preliminary, but could result in a separate class-action lawsuit.
“The government’s case only seeks what’s called injunctive relief to change practice going forward,” Glackin said. “They are not seeking any kind of monetary relief for anybody that’s been harmed by this. If the allegations are true...there’s a good chance that people have been harmed.”
The firm’s notice says its antitrust lawyers “would welcome a chance to talk with you about your potential case.…There is no cost or obligation for our review of your potential antitrust lawsuit against CHS. The information you provide will be held in the strictest confidence and will help us hold CHS accountable to businesses like yours and their employees. Conduct like this contributes to the skyrocketing costs for medicine that concern us all.”
The website – http://www.lieffcabraser.com/antitrust/carolina-healthcare-system/ – provides a form for potential clients to fill out.
In its antitrust case, the federal DOJ and the state AG claim Carolinas HealthCare has driven up health care costs through illegal efforts to prevent competition. The government contends the hospital system uses its regional dominance to get its way with the four major health insurance carriers and negotiates “unlawful contract restrictions” that prevent consumers from taking advantage of lower prices at other hospitals.
Carolinas HealthCare has denied the allegations and asked the federal court to dismiss the complaint.
Jim Cooney, a Charlotte lawyer representing Carolinas HealthCare, declined to comment on the Lieff Cabraser investigation. He said he couldn’t talk about pending litigation.
Noelle Talley, spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, said government officials also declined comment on a pending case.
Lawyers interviewed by the Observer said Lieff Cabraser’s solicitation is a “routine” way for law firms to find potential clients for class-action lawsuits related to consumer protection issues.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Gary Jackson, a Charlotte lawyer who specializes in class-action suits on behalf of large numbers of plaintiffs. “It’s not unethical, and it’s very routine, particularly among the large national plaintiffs’ law firms.”
It typically happens after high profile cases are filed by the government, lawyers said. The private firm seeks to file the civil action based on the government’s claims. When it comes to proving the case in court, the “government does the heavy lifting,” one lawyer said.
The American Bar Association does have ethics rules that prohibit “improper solicitation” of potential clients. For example, one lawyer said it would be unethical to walk into a hospital room to recruit a client who’s been injured in an accident. But advertising through the newspaper, TV or website is not unethical and not unusual, lawyers said.
“I’m not crazy about a lot of the advertisements that we see with personal injury firms,” said Jackson, who is not involved in the Carolinas HealthCare case. “But I am familiar with Lieff Cabraser, and I have no doubt that what they’re saying is appropriate.”