Hamilton Park Health Care Center, Ltd. v. Estate of Connie Slattery

A-7365-97T1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 1999) (Unpublished)
  • Opinion Date: December 21, 1999

CONTRACTS; NURSING HOMES; PERSONAL LIABILITY—A nursing home has an obligation to explain to a patient’s child that one of the many documents in a pile to be signed by that child, upon admission of his or her parent, is intended to impose personal liability on the signer.

A son had his mother admitted to a nursing home. When doing so, he signed a document purportedly making him a responsible party. “This document was one among a stack of others which included medical authorizations signed by [the son].” By virtue of a presumably innocent error on the part of the son, his mother’s medicaid eligibility was delayed and a portion of the nursing facility’s charges went unpaid. The son refused to pay those charges and he was sued by the nursing home. At trial, the son testified that “he was not told that he would have to pay in the event there was any debt to the long-term care facility.” He also testified that had he had known that he had to assume the debt, he would not have signed the document. Testimony from the nursing home’s employee concerning the signing of documents revealed that the home never pointed to this particular document and never told parties signing those documents that they would have personal liability. The lower court held that the son was not liable for the debt and that it was the nursing home’s obligation to explain the potential liability to the responsible party. The lower court judge went on to say: “[t]he average individual doesn’t bury many parents and doesn’t send very many parents into long-term care facilities, but the administrators of long-term care facilities are doing this with patients and their children every day. So if I am doing it every day, maybe I have greater obligation than the individual who brings one parent maybe, in his lifetime, or maybe two parents in his lifetime, to a long-term care facility. And I think the responsibility for the health care facility should be more than just ‘I have a signed document that I slipped in under 15 minutes of four or five documents that were explained at the time.’” The Court further said, “[s]o do I think it’s unconscionable? Yes. Do I think it’s against public policy? Well, it’s not against public policy. Is it fair dealing? No, I don’t think it’s good faith and fair dealing and I don’t blame the messenger.” On review of the record, the Appellate Division was satisfied that the lower court’s findings were supported by the credible evidence in the record as a whole. “The trial judge’s determination that plaintiff has a responsibility to explain the financial responsibility to be assumed by a child in admitting his or her elderly parents was well founded.”