More than 50 medical debt collection cases in Bonneville County could lead to months of jury trials beginning in February.
Judge Jason Walker agreed on Oct. 1 to begin scheduling dates for potential jury trial cases between Medical Recovery Services and defendants represented by Andrew Hawes, a Boise attorney from the Snell and Wilmer lawfirm paid for by the Idaho Medical Debt legal defense fund. Court records show potential trial dates for 51 medical debt cases are set on Thursdays and Fridays beginning Feb. 6 and continuing through the rest of 2020.
While some or all of the debt cases could be resolved via summary judgment or settlements before reaching that point, Walker said he wanted to make sure the court system was prepared for the full caseload.
“Obviously if there are legitimate issues that need to be tried, then the court is going to make itself available to try them. It’s just trying to figure out the logistics of how to make that happen,” Judge Walker said during the court hearing.
The Idaho Medical Debt legal fund was created by Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot in April to provide legal aid to Idaho being pursued over outstanding medical debt. To date, the defense team has received $1 million from VanderSloot and has agreed to be involved in 105 cases.
Hawes and Bryan Zollinger, the lead attorney representing Medical Recovery Services in these cases and state House representatives, recognized the unusual pressure this volume of debt cases could present during the hearing on Oct. 1. Zollinger said he had concerns with the logistics of repeatedly calling witnesses to verify the accuracy of the medical debt.
“That could be an issue if we’re asking someone to take two days off of work every day for a year,” Zollinger said.
Court-ordered mediation was also discussed as a potential workaround for the jury trials, with Walker questioning whether another Bonneville County judge could be able to mediate the settlements.
Snell and Wilmer spokesman Doug Farr said the law firm has been able to negotiate reduced settlements or improved payment plans in 31 cases involving Medical Recovery Services to date.
“If more clients engage Snell & Wilmer in medical debt matters in southeast Idaho, the firm will provide a full defense for these individuals, including if the cases go to a jury trial,” Farr said.
Medical Recovery Services spokesman Mark Harris disputed many of the allegations made against the company in VanderSloot’s public statements and Hawes’ legal defense, saying the legal facts have been on their side when cases end up in court.
“We’re talking to start with a very small sliver of cases in the totality of what we do and MRS has won every single judgment that has been completed over the last six or seven months that (VanderSloot) has been involved,” Harris said.
During the hearing in October, both Hawes and Zollinger said that more cases were likely to come in, but they didn’t expect another major increase unless there was a spike in media attention.