Congratulations to Attorney Miguel Almodóvar who was selected to present a paper in the journal CT NAELA Practice Update based on his Appellate Court victory in Harborside Conn. Ltd. Partnership v. Witte, 170 Conn.App. 26 (2016) earlier this year. CT NAELA Practice Update is a journal of legal analysis for Connecticut elder law practitioners. The published paper, Anatomy of Harborside v. Witte, is available for download here.
In the Harborside case, the nation’s largest nursing home chain sued the widow of a former resident for her deceased husband’s outstanding bill. Since neither of them had signed a contract, the nursing attempted to collect the debt from the widow under multiple alternative theories of obligation. When this claim was thrown out of court without a trial, the nursing home appealed. In a 2-1 decision, the Appeals Court upheld the dismissal of the suit, siding with the brief of Attorney Almodóvar and elder law specialist Scott D. Rosenberg.
Ordinarily, spouses are jointly responsible for their housing and necessary medical expenses, however both state and federal laws require a spouse to volunteer in writing to be responsible for a partner’s nursing home care. The court ruled that no matter the window dressing the nursing home put on the case at the end of the day the debt was owed by a deceased person and therefore had to be presented to the probate court. Since the nursing home had skipped this crucial step they were barred from recovery in the Superior Court.
The case has been lauded by Elder Law attorneys throughout Connecticut as a vindication of the public policy that nursing homes must seek affirmative consent prior to collecting against a patient’s spouse. The decision is also seen as a rebuke of aggressive nursing home collection policies and a win for consumers. The effect of Harborside is likely to be an increase in claims at the probate level as nursing homes are now on notice that they will have present their claims there. Harborside may also have the effect of reducing litigation against family members of recently deceased nursing home patients saving money and avoiding headaches for families during that already difficult time. As an appellate case, all trial court judges in Connecticut are bound by its holding.