New Wave of Lawsuits May Force Children to Pay for Elderly Parents’ Nursing Costs

Many of our clients and readers in Florida are caregivers of elderly parents; they have chosen to take responsibility for their parents–whether it be physical responsibility, financial, or other. But what if instead of making that choice, you had responsibility for your aging parents thrust upon you? This is exactly what happened in the case of Health Care & Retirement Corporation of America v. Pittas, recently brought before the Pennsylvania appeals court.

This particular case states that “On or about September 24, 2007, after completing rehabilitation for injuries sustained in a car accident, Appellant’s [John Pitta’s] mother was transferred to a HCR facility for skilled nursing care and treatment. Appellant’s mother resided in the facility and was treated by HCR until March of 2008. In March of 2008 Appellant’s mother withdrew from the HCR facility and relocated to Greece.”

Following Pittas’ mother’s relocation, a large portion of her bill at the nursing home went unpaid. Mr. Pittas’ mother applied to Medicaid to cover her care, but while that application was still pending, the nursing home sought to hold Mr. Pittas responsible for the debt under the state’s filial responsibility law. Although the case went to an arbitration panel which initially ruled in favor of Mr. Pittas, eventually the Pennsylvania trial court ruled in favor of the nursing home, holding Pittas responsible for nearly $93,000 of his mother’s nursing expenses.

At this time Florida does not have these issues, but Florida residents should be careful if their parents live in other states.

So far this has only happened in one state, but there are many other states which still have filial responsibility laws on the books. These laws have rarely been enforced thus far, but this ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court does not bode well for children of aging parents throughout the U.S., many of whom are finding themselves caught between caring for elderly parents and for grown children who have not yet left the nest.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about this case is that the nursing home was given so much leeway. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that “Nothing in [Pennsylvania Law] requires a movant or a court to consider other sources of income [for the elderly parent] or to stay its determination pending the resolution of a claim for medical assistance.” Furthermore, the court also stated that it was the nursing home’s right to choose which family members to pursue for the money owed.

This would seem to condone (if not encourage) a litigious mind-set among nursing homes; and if you are one of many siblings with an elderly parent you could find yourself involved in a lawsuit merely because you live the closest, are the wealthiest, or called mom more often than your brothers or sisters.

The best way to guard against yourself or your family becoming embroiled in a similar lawsuit is to ensure that you (or your elderly parents) have a plan in place to pay for long-term care. Talk to your parents about what plans (if any) they have to pay for their future long-term care needs, and contact our office to explore your options.

To read more on Elder Law download our Elder Law Update.

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