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Judges rule in favor of daughter in payment dispute with nursing facility

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A woman who signed a move-in agreement at a skilled nursing facility as a “responsible party/agent” for her mother was able to prove to the Indiana Court of Appeals she should not be liable for money owed by her mother for care while at the facility.

Alexis Hutchison, pro se, appealed a $2,610.87 judgment against her for services rendered to her mother, Martha Farber, while Farber lived at Springhurst Health Campus. Farber was ill with cancer and required a nearly three-month stay at the facility. She died Feb. 21, 2013, while this litigation was pending.

The agreement Hutchinson signed says that the responsible party/agent agrees to pay the facility the full amount of the resident’s income and resources that the responsible party/agent controls or accesses. Hutchinson’s defense at trial focused on the fact she did not have power of attorney or the authority to manger her mother’s funds. The business manager of Springhurst testified that the facility did not have any records that Hutchinson had power of attorney over her mother. Hutchinson’s husband testified that a facility representative told Hutchinson she would not be personally responsible for her mother’s bill when she signed the agreement.

In Alexis Hutchison and Martha Farber, deceased and Trilogy Health Services, LLC, d/b/a Springhurst Health Campus, 30A01-1307-SC-316, the judges pointed out that Congress has imposed limitations on the concept of a family member being financially responsible for another family member’s care. Some resident-rights advocates claim that third-party guarantee or responsible party provisions are inherently illegal, although some courts have concluded under federal law that third parties can “volunteer” to sign as guarantors of payment to nursing homes.

“It appears Indiana courts have not yet expressly spoken to the legality of the responsible party provisions; although Hutchison urges us to declare that such provisions are unenforceable, we find it unnecessary to reach that issue today,” Judge James Kirsch wrote.

The agreement doesn’t define “responsible party” but says that person agrees to pay the full amount of the resident’s income and resources “that the Responsible Party/Agent controls or accesses.” There is no evidence that Hutchinson ever had authority to “manage, use, control or access” her mother’s income, financial accounts or other resources, as written in the agreement. The trial court erred, so the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment for Hutchinson.
 

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