Tuesday, May 8, 2012

PA Ruling: Son must pay mother’s nursing home bill

John Pittas mother was injured in an auto accident and spent 6 months in Liberty Nursing Home, a subsidiary of Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America (HCRA). In March 2008 she left the nursing home and departed for Greece without paying the bill.

HCRA sued John for his mother’s debt to the nursing home. Children can be responsible for the unpaid cost of their parent’s care and maintenance under Pennsylvania’s Indigent  Support law (23 Pa.C.S.A §4603). The law, sometimes called a "filial support" law, specifies that certain relatives (including a child) "have the responsibility to care for and maintain or financially assist an indigent person." Courts in Pennsylvania have been allowing nursing homes and other providers of care to use this statute to sue children for the unpaid costs of the services they provided to the child's parent.

The trial court found John liable in the amount of $92,943.41.  On May 7th a Pennsylvania Appeals court upheld the judgment. It said that John was liable because the evidence showed that his mother could not pay her nursing home bill meaning she was “indigent” under the law, and John had sufficient ability to support her. HCRA v.Pittas (Pennsylvania Superior Court, May 7, 2012).

The nursing home had applied for Medicaid benefits for the mother under the Pennsylvania Medical Assistance program. There was a problem with the Medicaid application and it was on appeal. But according to the Court, HCRA could sue John even before his the mother’s appeal for Medical Assistance payment was decided, and it was not required to sue Mrs. Pittas’ husband or other children or consider their ability to contribute to the cost of her care. HCRA could choose which family members to go after, and it could legally decide to go after John alone.

The Appeals Court noted that to qualify as "indigent" Mrs. Pittas didn’t need to be completely destitute and helpless. She was "indigent” for purposes of the Indigent Support law if she did not have sufficient means to pay for her care and maintenance. If she didn’t have the resources to pay for her own care, and John had the ability to provide support, he was liable.

Children are often surprised to learn that they can be held responsible for their parent’s unpaid medical and care related expenses. It just doesn’t seem fair. But, whether fair or not, the Pittas case shows that the child’s support obligation to the parent is the law in Pennsylvania.   

Children: be warned. If your parent needs long term care and may someday be unable to pay for it, you should find out about your potential financial liability and what to do about it. If you live in Pennsylvania, you can consult with one of the certified elder law attorneys at Marshall, Parker and Associates. The first consultation is free of charge.  

For More Information

HCRA v. Pittas (2012 Pa. Super 96, May 7, 2012).


trisha said...

My mother-in-law who lives in Philadelphia, has appointed her 21 year old granddaughter as her financial POA. My husband, her son, is concerned that if the granddaughter mismanages his mother's finances, he may be held responsible for mother's long term care expenses. Is this correct?

Jeff Marshall said...

Trisha, depending on the circumstances, that is possible under the Pennsylvania law discussed in this article.

[Nothing in this article or comment should be taken as legal advice. No communication between Jeffrey A. Marshall and readers of this article and comments is to be inferred to cause an attorney client relationship. If you require legal assistance please contact an attorney who is licensed in your jurisdiction and knowledgeable in the area of law in which you require help.]