Ambulance company sues Huntington Beach

An ambulance company has sued the city of Huntington Beach, claiming the city has restricted fair, open-market competition by not allowing its fleet to operate in the city.

In its complaint, filed Monday in federal court, Carson-based AmeriCare MedServices, Inc. alleges that Huntington Beach has been violating state and federal anti-trust laws since November 1993, when it first began relying on its own Fire Department ambulance fleet instead of using a private company's.

Though the city has full-time ambulances — which transport more than 10,000 patients annually, according to its website — when there is additional need, Huntington Beach uses, on a rotating basis, three private vendors as backup to handle additional calls.

Attorneys for AmeriCare, which seeks to be one of the backup vendors, pointed to a 2014 ruling from Orange County authorities that indicated Huntington Beach was not an exclusive ambulance market and open to competition from multiple vendors

In light of that, Jim Karras, AmeriCare's vice president and chief operating officer, said in an interview that he believed his company had the right to operate there. He added that the Huntington Beach's current system gives the backup vendors no guaranteed work, which means their availability can be up to the luck of the draw.

Karras pointed to Seal's Ambulance Service, which provided ambulance service for Huntington Beach from the 1960s to until the council's 1993 vote to bring the job to the Fire Department.

"Seal's had an incentive to cover its designated area in Huntington Beach, but without such an arrangement, there is no guarantee at all that a non-contracted private ambulance will be available when needed to serve," Karras said.

In March 2015, AmeriCare sent the city a letter, asking to go on the city's rotation of ambulance providers in light of the county's decision the year before. The city, however, denied AmeriCare's request. The city attorney's office also claimed that Huntington Beach and other cities like it "enjoy" an immunity from anti-trust challenges at the state level.

"We asked to serve the residents of Huntington Beach, but our demand was rebuffed by the city," Karras said.

On Feb. 16, AmeriCare filed a damage claim with the city, asking again to be placed on the ambulance provider rotation. The company also sought damages for a portion of revenues from emergency service transports within the city from the date of its first rotation request to present, including any damages that may be legally awarded.

The city rejected the claim Feb. 29.

AmeriCare is seeking restitution of all money "wrongfully obtained" by Huntington Beach, as well as other relief.

"We really believe that this lawsuit is about restoring competition in the city," Karras said. "The residents of Huntington Beach deserve the swiftest and safest ambulance service."

Comment on the lawsuit from Huntington Beach city officials was unavailable as of press time.

alexia.fernandez@latimes.com

Twitter: @alexiafedz

Copyright © 2017, Huntington Beach Independent
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°