Billing problem: do I have to pay a bill that falls outside the customary charge in my area?

Mr. Evans, suffering from a toothache, visits Dr. Brown, a dentist, and asks to be treated. Dr. Brown agrees to examine Mr. Evans and fix the problem, and Mr. Evans agrees to settle the charge, unknown at this time, afterwards. Dr. Brown successfully handles the problem with a simple extraction, and then charges Mr. Evans $10,000. Recognizing that the usual and customary charge for this procedure, in this geographical area, is about $250 at most, Mr. Evans refuses to pay. Can Dr. Brown bring suit against Mr. Evans for the $10,000? Under federal or state law is Dr. Evans limited to the usual and customary fees?

Yes, Dr. Brown can bring suit against Mr. Evans, but it’s highly unlikely he will be awarded $10,000, according to litigation attorney Terence Collins. The rule is that when no specific fee is quoted for professional services there is an implied agreement that the charges will be ordinary and reasonable. In this case, it doesn't look like there was anything unusual about Mr. Evan's condition that required Dr. Brown to do anything extraordinary to treat it. Therefore, a court would award to Dr. Brown the amount that would be ordinary and reasonable for the service performed and that would be a lot closer to $250 than $10,000.

You may also be interested to know that the prevailing party in a lawsuit is awarded statutory costs, such as filing fees, copying fees, etc., along with statutory attorneys’ fees. The amount of statutory attorneys’ fees would be either $50 or $100, depending on how much the prevailing party was awarded for damages in the underlying lawsuit.

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