The Nebraska Supreme Court has reprimanded an Omaha personal injury lawyer for lying during negotiations over a client's hospital bill.
The action stems from a 2008 lawsuit Eric Kruger filed on behalf of Edward Smalley, who was hit by a snowplow owned by Morehead Construction of Plattsmouth. Both of Smalley's legs were severed, according to the complaint.
Smalley was taken to St. Joseph Hospital, which determined he was eligible for Medicaid and submitted bills to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
The agency denied Smalley's claim, arguing that Morehead's liability insurance might cover the costs. When Morehead offered to settle the case for $805,000, Kruger told an HHS agent he would use some of the settlement money to reimburse the agency if it agreed to pay Smalley's Medicaid claim.
The agency approved a Medicaid payment to the hospital and tried to collect from Smalley. But instead of paying back HHS Kruger instead added the agency as a defendant in the case.
In the process, he admitted having misled the agent, according to the reprimand.
The Nebraska Supreme Court later ruled that HHS was entitled to the money, and Kruger was brought up for disciplinary action.
Anne Winner, the Lincoln attorney who represented Kruger in the matter, said it was a rare ethical lapse by a lawyer whose “unshakable belief” was that the agency's position was unlawful.
This is Kruger's first public censure by the court.
“Eric Kruger is a very fine lawyer with a good reputation,” Winner said. “He's been doing this for a long time. ... The circumstances under which this all happened are extremely sympathetic.”