Class-action lawsuit in the making against Aspen business
Billing issues with debt collector at heart of federal case against local doctors
What appeared to be a billing miscue by an Aspen business through a third-party debt collector has set the stage for a class-action lawsuit in federal court.
Carbondale resident Rafael Navarro, who was a patient of Aspen Anesthesia on May 15, is suing the clinic under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Through San Diego attorney Hunter Hoestenbach, Navarro’s suit alleged he received a debt-collection letter that misidentified the creditor seeking payment. That was in violation of the FDCPA, the suit said.
“This is confusing for people and may cause people to be reluctant to pay their bill,” Hoestenbach said.
Hoestenbach introduced Navarro’s claims against Aspen Anesthesia on March 4 in the U.S. District of Denver. The suit is seeking a class of plaintiffs who are Colorado residents and have received debt-collection letters from Aspen Anesthesia under an incorrect business title since March 4, 2020.
The suit stems from Aspen Anesthesia’s use of California-based Monox Billing Service as its third-party collector. Monox mailed Navarro invoices demanding payment for $3,150 four times between Aug. 10 and Nov. 20, according to the suit’s version of the events.
It was the fifth bill, however, that was the culprit for Navarro’s complaint. The “final notice” was purported to be from Eric Willsky MD, A Med Corp and in the care of Monox Billing Service.
The problem with that, the suit noted, was that business was merged out of existence in November 2007 when Willsky changed its name to Eric Willsky M.D. PC. As well, Dr. Jon Beck acquired the business in November 2018 and changed its name to Aspen Anesthesia.
“It is false, deceptive and misleading for a debt collector to use a business, company or organization name other than the true name of the debt collector’s business, company or organization,“ the suit said. ”Defendant’s debt collection letters to Plaintiff used the name of a business that does not exist.“
Hoestenbach said Aspen Anesthesia didn’t appear to be up to anything nefarious, but a key detail in its billing practices was overlooked after Willsky sold the business.
“This third party (bill collector) has been retained by a predecessor of Aspen Anesthesia for 10-plus years and no one has even bothered to change over anything,” he said. “Now you’ve got somebody in California sending you a bill for something in Aspen, and it looks like an entirely different doctor and he’s billing you for services.”
Both Beck and Willsky, who is not a defendant or a party to the suit, declined comment.
Representing Aspen Anesthesia in the dispute is the Denver law firm Sherman & Howard, which entered its appearance in the matter on Monday, according to court records.
The case was assigned to signed to Magistrate Judge N. Reid Neureiter on the same date the suit was filed.
Hoestenbach said he learned about Navarro from a Colorado resident aware of his alleged billing issues.
“I advertise locally in San Diego in a Spanish-language periodical that goes to local grocery stores and other outlets, and a guy who lives and works in Colorado was on a business trip, saw the ad and gave me call,“ he said.
It’s too early to determine the size of the class, Hoestenbach said. A judge also would have to give the lawsuit class-action certification.
“At this point, I don’t know what the class size would be, and these cases are limited to the past year,” he said.
Class members could be solicited by reviewing Aspen Anesthesia’s records, the suit said.
“The proposed class is ascertainable in that, upon information and belief, the names and addresses of all members of the Class can be identified in business records maintained by Defendant,” the suit said.
The suit is seeking seeking statutory damages “in an amount not to exceed the lesser of five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) or 1 percent of the net worth of (Aspen Anesthesia).”
The lawsuit’s three claims under the FDCPA are Aspen Anesthesia failed to properly notify Navarro that he could dispute or verify the debt; Aspen Anesthesia’s billing practices were misleading and deceptive; and the business also failed to provide its correct name on its final notice to Navarro.
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