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Bowden v. Medical Center, Inc.

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 15, 2015

BOWDEN
v.
THE MEDICAL CENTER, INC

Certiorari to the Court of Appeals of Georgia -- 327 Ga.App. 714.

Charles A. Gower, Charles A. Gower, Jr., David T. Rohwedder, for appellant.

Fischer Scott, Bobby Lee Scott, Scott C. Crowley, for appellee.

NAHMIAS, Justice. All the Justices concur.

OPINION

Nahmias, Justice.

Georgia law gives a hospital a lien for the reasonable charges for its care and treatment of an injured person against all causes of action accruing to that person on account of her injuries, and establishes a process for the hospital to perfect its lien for the amount claimed to be due. See OCGA § § 44-14-470, 44-14-471. The Medical Center, Inc. (TMC) provided hospital care to Danielle Bowden, who did not have health insurance, after she was injured in a car wreck, billed her $21,409.59 for her care, and filed a hospital lien for that amount. In a subsequent lawsuit, Bowden sought to invalidate the lien on the ground that the billed charges were

Page 693

grossly excessive and did not reflect the reasonable value of the care she received, while TMC alleged that $21,409.59 was a reasonable amount for Bowden's care and sought a declaratory judgment establishing the validity of its lien.

During discovery, TMC objected to Bowden's requests for, among other things, information and documents regarding the amounts that the hospital charged insured patients for the same type of care. Bowden filed a motion to compel discovery, which the trial court [297 Ga. 286] granted subject to the entry of a protective order to ensure confidentiality. On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in granting the motion because " the discovery Bowden seeks is not relevant to her claim that TMC's medical charges for her treatment were unreasonable." The Medical Center, Inc. v. Bowden, 327 Ga.App. 714, 714 (761 S.E.2d 116) (2014). We granted Bowden's petition for certiorari to review that holding.

As explained below, where the subject matter of a lawsuit includes the validity and amount of a hospital lien for the reasonable charges for a patient's care, how much the hospital charged other patients, insured or uninsured, for the same type of care during the same time period is relevant for discovery purposes. The Court of Appeals erred in concluding otherwise and in holding on that ground that the trial court abused its discretion in granting Bowden's motion to compel. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals' judgment.

1. On July 1, 2011, the rental car in which Danielle Bowden was a passenger was involved in an accident. At about 10:40 p.m., Bowden, who was 21 years old and did not have health insurance, was taken by ambulance to TMC's hospital in Columbus, Georgia, where she received emergency medical treatment that included surgery for a broken leg. At some point on July 2, Bowden's mother allegedly signed an admission form that said in relevant part:

I, the undersigned, am seeking treatment at The Medical Center, Inc. ... for myself or a person for whom I am responsible for his/her medical care. ... The undersigned agrees, whether as Agent, Guarantor, or Patient, that in consideration of the services to be rendered to the patient, the undersigned is individually obligated to pay the account in full of the Hospital, and attending physicians, or organizations, or other satisfactory financial arrangements must be made prior to time of patient discharge.

Bowden was discharged from the hospital on July 4. On July 13, she returned to the hospital for physical therapy and allegedly signed the same admission form herself. TMC billed Bowden a total of $21,409.59 for her care and filed a hospital lien for that amount pursuant to OCGA § 44-14-470 (b).[1]

[297 Ga. 287] On July 27, 2012, the rental car company (Enterprise) filed a complaint in interpleader against Bowden and TMC and paid $25,000 into the registry of the trial court. The complaint alleged that Enterprise was self-insured with an insurance certificate that provided automobile coverage up to $25,000; that Bowden presented a claim against Enterprise, which Enterprise offered to settle for the policy ...


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