Attorney fees in Bartholomew Co. small claims court scrutinized
New rules are coming to Marion County small claims courts that could limit the fees attorneys charge. The change is prompted by a 13 Investigates report showing collection attorneys making big profits off medical bills.
Now, a Bartholomew County man says residents there need justice, too.
Brian Knox gets emotional when he thinks back to the medical emergency that took his 14-year-old son, Adam, from a picture of health to the face of suffering.
Adam's appendix burst in July 2011.
"When we went there, they couldn't do anything about, so for 10 days he went downhill, downhill, downhill," said Knox, choking back tears.
Brian's finances also went downhill. He lost his job. As Adam recovered, hospital bills poured in.
After finding a new job, Knox began working with Columbus Regional and Riley Hospital for Children to consolidate Adam's bills.
By July 2012, he had settled up with Riley and Columbus Regional, or so he thought. Turns out, a $155 ER bill from Columbus Regional was sent to collections.
"I received a court summons for $677 from DECA Financial. I'm going, 'What is this?'," recalled Knox.
There was a $155 emergency room charge, $54 in interest, $94 in court costs and $375 in attorney fees. The bill was connected to a statement he received in January, giving him 30 days to dispute it. He filed it, thinking notices to pay would be sent later.
That never happened.
Now DECA Financial said he was on the hook for three times the original payment, including that $375 attorney fee.
"I found out there were 90 others, all in the same day of court, all within a two-and-a-half-hour time period. I called a couple of them and found out they all had a charge of $375 that was a standard fee," Knox told 13 Investigates.
$375 might not sound like a lot for one person, but for more than 95 people, it adds up.
"$36,000 in legal fees for two hours in court, all for the same contract," said Knox, explaining how much the DECA attorney was getting paid for duplicate work. "I can't believe that they're getting away with this."
Knox decided it was time to fight back and used a 13 Investigates report to warn others.
"I was talking about Derek Johnson charging a lot, and in Marion County when Judge Rosenberg saw that, (he) seemed to be appalled and was actually taking action to try to prevent that from happening," Knox said, referring to our 13 Investigates report "Small Claims...Big Injustice."
DECA Financial took issue with Brian Knox's campaign outside of Bartholomew County Small Claims Court after several others challenged the $375 legal fee. Knox says he was accused of unauthorized practice of law, a felony, and ordered not to talk with others about DECA at the courthouse again.
"I was surprised. That was one of the biggest shockers, the lack of support from the judicial system. I thought the judicial system of Indiana would try to hold up the rights of common people," said Knox.
The Indiana Attorney General's Office confirms it is investigating the collection practices of DECA Financial.
"We do not charge a flat fee. We seek to recover a reasonable amount for the necessary fees incurred in preparing and filing the lawsuits," DECA's litigation manager Wendy Brewer said.
Brian Knox is back in court on Friday, the same day Marion County is expected to publish its new rules for attorney fees. Knox says he wants Indiana lawmakers to put caps on attorney fees statewide.