EAGLE — Lindsay Winninger, the former head physical therapist for the U.S. Ski Team on the women’s World Cup circuit and Lindsey Vonn’s private physical therapist, has filed a federal antitrust lawsuit claiming Vail Health holds a monopoly in the regional physical therapy industry.
In her federal lawsuit, Winninger alleges that Vail Health’s officers and board president defamed and disparaged her, and deceived others about her, which drove her firm out of business.
Vail Health’s ‘supra-competitive profits’
Winninger’s federal lawsuit alleges that Vail Health controls 70% of the Vail Valley’s physical therapy market. That gives the hospital the “monopoly power to raise prices and exclude competition.”
Winninger alleges that Vail Health collects “supra-competitive profits,” from its physical therapy business, 20% to 40% above competitive market prices. That’s approximately $140 per session for self-pay and more than $300 per session under an insurance contract, as opposed to the more normal rate of $65 to $120 per session, the lawsuit alleges.
“According to the sworn testimony of Howard Head Executive Vice President Nicholas Brown, Vail Health captured, on a gross margin basis, $22.5 million in 2017 alone,” the lawsuit states.
That kind of money should have attracted competition but has not because of “Vail Health’s exclusionary conduct,” the lawsuit states.
Over the past two years, three physical therapy providers — including Winninger’s Sports Rehab Consulting — have closed their Vail offices because of “anticompetitive market conditions created by Vail Health’s exercise of its monopoly power,” the lawsuit alleges.
Local lawsuits too
While the federal antitrust case was filed this week, an Eagle County case has been slogging its way through local courts for more than three years.
In an emailed statement, Vail Health said Winninger’s federal antitrust lawsuit is more of the same.
“The complaint filed against Vail Health by Lindsay Winninger and Sports Rehab Consulting appears to largely restate many of the same baseless allegations these parties previously made in the lawsuit pending in Eagle County,” Vail Health’s statement said.
Vail Health has accused Winninger and David Cimino of taking more than 3,000 Vail Health patient files when Cimino left Vail Health to join Winninger’s firm, and that Winninger and Cimino solicited those patients.
That’s not true, Winninger says. She sued Vail Health and now-former CEO Doris Kirchner in Eagle County District Court for what Winninger says are “false” and “defamatory” claims.
“Vail Health has been vigorously defending that case. Vail Health has not been served yet with this (federal antitrust) complaint and is not therefore in a position to comment further on the latest filing by plaintiffs,” Vail Health’s statement said.
Maintaining a monopoly?
Winninger’s lawsuit claims that Vail Health’s competitive barriers include:
- Physical therapists who leave Vail Health to work somewhere else are banned for a year from treating any of the patients they treated at the hospital, under the terms of an “unreasonable, illegal and anticompetitive employment agreement” physical therapists must sign when they work for the hospital.
- In Winninger’s case, Vail Health “also engaged in anticompetitive acts and conduct by defaming … Winninger and disparaging Sports Rehab’s business reputation in the Vail Valley medical community, and by … interfering with Winninger’s consulting contracts, all in an attempt to maintain Vail Health’s monopoly over physical therapy services in the Vail Valley geographic market.”
- Vail Health’s 10-year lease with the Steadman clinic, signed June 1, 2017, precluded the Steadman clinic from launching its own physical therapy business. Steadman’s referrals account for 65%-70% of Vail Health’s physical therapy referrals, the lawsuit alleges.
- Vail Health tried to create a physical therapy joint venture with Vail Summit Orthopedics, “expanding or at least maintaining its monopoly power,” the lawsuit alleges.
Former U.S. Ski Team, Olympic therapist
Winninger is the former head physical therapist for the U.S. Ski Team on the women’s World Cup circuit and now Lindsey Vonn’s private physical therapist. She is being represented by Alan Kildow, Vonn’s father, who has specialized in complex commercial litigation during his legal career.
“This case is not just about a physical therapist – the underlying facts are about control of physical therapy in the Vail Valley. This case far outstrips a simple defamation case,” Kildow said during a hearing earlier this year.
Kildow argued that a forensic audit of Winninger’s computer found that Winninger does not have Vail Health’s patient files, never did, and did not solicit any Vail Health patients. Kildow said that in the three and a half years the case has been slogging through local courts, Vail Health has not come up with the name of one patient whom Winninger solicited.
Janet Savage, Vail Health’s attorney, insisted in a hearing Thursday afternoon that they have not been given access to all those files.
Kildow countered that what “Savage says is untrue.”
“She (Winninger) has been accused of stealing patients that were never stolen,” Kildow said. “It is a very simple issue. Did these parties take copies (of the patient files)? There is no question that no one took copies.”
District Court Judge Russell Granger inherited the case when former Judge Fred Gannett retired. So far, Granger has ruled on 114 motions.
To help speed the case along, Granger appointed retired Chief District Court Judge Terry Ruckriegle to sift through the mountains of paperwork.
Federal Lawsuit on Scribd