Court denies medical provider's attempt to intervene in No Fault PIP action
Carolyn Nicholson is the mother and guardian of her daughter, Jeanne, who suffered a severe and incapacitating head injury in a motor vehicle collision. She was forced to sue Citizens Insurance Company to secure PIP Medical benefits for her daughter. After the case had been pending for some time, the parties agreed on a settlement that included the payment of fees and costs to Nicholson's attorneys. At that stage, Willowbrook Rehabilitation Services sought to join the case to secure full payment for its services and to deny Nicholson's attorneys fees based on Willowbrook services.The court noted that intervention is no longer timely once a case has been decided, since that would allow a non-party who chose to avoid the risk and expense of suit to benefit from its conclusion. Nevertheless, since this case had not been reduced to judgment, the Court felt that attempted intervention was not automatically untimely. Reviewing the circumstances, however, the Court determined that late intervention as attempted by Willowbrook would unduly delay the pending action and inject new issues into a matter that was virtually resolved. On that basis, the court denied intervention.
The Court noted that Willowbrook retained the right to sue the injured patient for complete payment (beyond the net 2/3 recovered in the settlement). It also noted that Willowbrook enjoyed the legal right to pursue fees from Citizens in its own right as a provider of services for which payment had been unreasonably denied--and that in fact Willowbrook had filed such a suit against Citizens.
Lastly, the Court rejected the claim that Nicholson's attorneys had interfered with Citizens' payment of medical expenses by filing the suit and refusing to compromise. The Court noted that Willowbrook agreed that Citizens' conduct had been unreasonable, and that Citizens continued to owe payment for proper billings regardless of the filing of the lawsuit. Since the attorneys had clearly earned their fee, which was paid by the insured who remained potentially responsible for medical billings, Willowbrook had no ground to claim unjust enrichment or to object to the payment of the attorneys' fees from the Citizens' recovery.