Health system, health department named in lawsuit

February 10, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

A Williamsport ambulance company is alleging the Washington County Health System and Washington County Health Department conspired to push it out of business in favor of a competitor, according to a lawsuit filed in Washington County Circuit Court.

County Medical Transport Inc. is seeking up to $9 million in compensatory damages and up to $4.5 million in punitive damages, plus costs, in the nine-count suit, filed Feb. 1 against the health system and its resident agent, president and CEO James P. Hamill; the health department and its health officer, William G. Christoffel; and Mid-Maryland Medical Transport LLC.

The suit was filed by Columbia, Md., attorney Charles Jerome Ware on behalf of County Medical Transport and its president and CEO, Robert Harsh.


Jim Miller, director of Mid-Maryland Medical Transport LLC, said he would not comment on the lawsuit "at this point."

Christoffel was unavailable for comment Thursday. Maureen Theriault, Washington County Hospital spokeswoman, said Thursday that Hamill has not seen the lawsuit and has "no comment at this time."

County Medical Transport, which provides nonemergency and wheelchair ambulance services, claims in the suit that it was awarded a four-year contract in 2003 "for medical assistance funded transportation services with the Washington County Health Department," but its contract was terminated "unlawfully and maliciously" after one year, at which point the health department replaced County Medical Transport with "competitor Mid-Maryland," according to the suit.

Ware alleges in the suit that the health department's "plan all along was to unlawfully break the contract with County Medical and illegally replace County Medical with Mid-Maryland Medical Transport, in violation of procurement laws and practices ..."

The suit alleges that Christoffel and Hamill "conspired to unlawfully cause the termination" of County Medical Transport's contract.

County Medical Transport alleges in the suit that the health department had made "a clear and definite promise" to the company that applicable procurement laws and practices would be followed to manage the contract awards, but it alleges that those rules weren't followed.

County Medical Transport bought more than $500,000 worth of equipment and supplies in preparation to fulfill its part of the contract, the suit states.

County Medical Transport started in 1982, The Herald-Mail has reported.

County Medical Transport is suing for breach of contract, tortuous interference with contractual relations, tortuous interference with business, torts arising from breach of contract, civil conspiracy, unlawful predatory pricing, Medicare fraud, unlawful self-referrals, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and detrimental reliance, according to the suit.

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