The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a son seeking to avoid personal liability for his mother’s nursing home costs. Lower courts had held John Pittas responsible for his mother’s unpaid nursing home bill of nearly $93,000. The Supreme Court’s action leaves the lower Superior Court ruling in the case (HCRA v.Pittas) as the guiding precedent in Pennsylvania.
Under Pennsylvania’s support laws children have the responsibility to care for and maintain or financially assist parents who become unable to pay for their care. (23 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 4601-4606, “Support of the Indigent”). These laws are sometimes referred to as “filial support laws.” Using the statute, nursing homes and other providers of care in Pennsylvania have been successfully suing children for the unpaid costs of the services provided to their parents.
Further details of the specific set of facts in Pittas can be found in my earlier post regarding the case. It is noteworthy that there was no finding that Mr. Pittas was responsible for his mother’s inability to pay her nursing home bill. This was not a case of liability being based on transfers of assets or other planning which enriched the son.
Many states have some type of law which could be used to hold a child liable for the cost of their parent’s care. But these laws seem to be rarely utilized except in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s law specifically authorizes suits by third parties such as nursing homes and other health care providers.
Now that the Pittas case is final, there may be some movement on legislative attempts to repeal or otherwise modify the statute. Bills have already been introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate (SB 70) and House (HB 224) to repeal the filial support law. However, both bills were introduced by Democratic legislators in a Legislature controlled by Republicans, and their future is uncertain.
Holding children liable for the costs of their parents’ care is an undoubtedly controversial approach to dealing with our nation’s long term care financing crisis. It will be interesting to see how the Pennsylvania legislature deals with this issue.
Professor Katherine Pearson, the pre-eminent expert on filial responsibility laws, will be speaking on the topic at the Marshall, Parker and Weber Professional Update on May 1st and May 2nd. More information on attending this free session is available here.
For More Information on the Pittas Case and Filial Responsibility:
HCRA v.Pittas (2012 Pa. Super 96, May 7, 2012)
Professor Katherine Pearson discusses the Pittas case and Pennsylvania’s filial support law. (An excellent 4 minute video overview).
Son Liable for Mom's $93,000 Nursing Home Bill Under 'Filial Responsibility' Law (Elder Law Answers)
Are You on the Hook for Mom's Nursing-Home Bill? (Wall Street Journal)