An ambulance company has sued the city of Costa Mesa, alleging that it violated antitrust law by instituting a monopolized system of emergency medical services.
AmeriCare MedService’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana on Wednesday, argues that the city has “conspired” with Care Ambulance Services, Costa Mesa’s ambulance provider, which has effectively shut AmeriCare out.
In June 1980, in response to what was seen as haphazard EMS in the state, California passed a law that required open competition in the field of ambulance service, said attorney Aaron Gott of Bona Law PC, the firm representing AmeriCare.
An exception was included for existing city contracts with emergency medical service (EMS) businesses, but Costa Mesa did not have a contract with an ambulance business at the time the law was passed, Gott said.
Thus, Gott contends, when Costa Mesa signed its exclusive contract with Care in 2008, it violated state law by creating an illegal monopoly.
Under Costa Mesa’s current EMS system, a fire truck responds to all emergency calls with a city ambulance and a Care ambulance in tow. All patients are taken to a hospital by Care. The city’s new ambulance fleet is not used for patient transport.
For people who are in critical condition, a city paramedic travels in a Care ambulance for the hospital trip, with a city ambulance following so the paramedic has a ride back.
According to court documents, AmeriCare — a family-owned ambulance service with offices in Garden Grove, Carson and Escondido — applied for a contract with Costa Mesa in March 2015, specifically citing antitrust law in a letter to the city. AmeriCare argued that it can provide better service for a lower price, but it has not been allowed to compete against Care.
On April 13 later that year, Costa Mesa denied AmeriCare’s request.
AmeriCare has filed cases against eight other Orange County cities, alleging that each is violating state antitrust law. Bona Law PC is representing AmeriCare in each case.
AmeriCare filed a similar lawsuit against Huntington Beach in late August.
“Local governments are not immune from the federal antitrust laws,” Gott said. “Congress made competition the national policy, and California law makes clear that competition is its policy for prehospital EMS.
“The city of Costa Mesa, along with Care, circumvented those policies and put its interests ahead of emergency patients. This lawsuit is simply about restoring competition in Costa Mesa as Congress and the California legislature intended so that the citizens of Costa Mesa get the swiftest, most reliable emergency transportation they deserve and at a competitive price.”
A Costa Mesa city spokesman said Friday the city had not been served with the lawsuit yet and was unable to comment on it.