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Court allows part of lawsuit on hospital charges

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A state appeals court Friday cleared the way for part of a lawsuit challenging the amount of money charged by a Jacksonville hospital for a patient's emergency care.

The dispute stems from treatment provided in 2013 by Mayo Clinic to Shawn Ahearn, who was uninsured.

Ahearn was billed $5,953 for the care and filed a lawsuit alleging that Mayo charged an excessive amount that was more than what would be charged to patients with private insurance or government coverage, according to Friday's ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal.

A Duval County circuit judge ruled that the lawsuit was moot because Mayo ultimately waived all but $330 of the bill.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, upheld most of the circuit judge's ruling but said Ahearn can pursue a claim under part of a state law known as the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.

The ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Ross Bilbrey and joined by Judge Ronald Swanson, hinged on part of the law that allows "aggrieved" parties to pursue claims under the law.

The decision sent the case back to circuit court. But Judge Lori Rowe wrote a dissenting opinion that argued the entire case was moot.

"Here, Ahearn's standing to bring suit ceased when Mayo Clinic waived the remainder of Ahearn's medical bill and agreed to pay his attorney's fees and costs,'' she wrote. "Following the cancellation of his debt and payment of his fees and costs, Ahearn's claim became moot and he was no longer in a position to complain."