Ambulance Service Declared a Learned Profession in NJ

Who knew? In New Jersey ambulance service is considered a “learned profession,” up there with medicine and law. And that classification provides more than prestige. It means exemption from the state’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). That was the ruling of the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division on June 29 in (mostly) affirming denial of class certification in a purported class action against a New Jersey ambulance company for alleged overcharges.

When John Cullum passed out at his gym, the ambulance bill was $1750, plus a mileage fee for the trip to the hospital. (No word on whether he passed out again when he got the bill.) When Hala Hitti fainted and the same ambulance company assessed her, the bill was $1500, plus a $14 mileage fee for taking her to the hospital. The mileage fee was especially irritating because Hala didn’t go to the hospital.

The ambulance company sued both John and Hala for payment, and each counterclaimed under the CFA for a purported class of 36,000 people overbilled by the company. The trial court denied class certification, and the Appellate Division affirmed, holding that ambulance service is a learned profession under NJ law and therefore exempt from the act. The rationale is that ambulance service is regulated by the state Department of Health, and that regulation includes assuring that ambulance service is provided at a reasonable cost.  Though not technically a decision on the merits, the rationale of the Appellate Court’s decision (unless overturned by a higher court) likely sounds the death knell for Cullum’s overcharge claim and all but $14 of Hala’s counterclaim.

But Hala’s $14 fee was a different matter. The company admitted that the charge was improper for Hala and others who weren’t taken to a hospital. The court remanded that issue to the trial court for determination of class certification.

 

The case is Atlantic Ambulance v. Cullum, No. A-1622-16T2 (N.J. Super, June 29, 2017).

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