Patients can be held liable for care received as minors

Court of Appeals ruling benefits Md. hospitals

November 16, 2001|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In a boon to hospitals, patients can be held liable for bills for emergency care they received when they were minors if their parents refused to pay, a divided Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.

"This ruling is critically important for hospitals," said Herbert A. Thaler Jr., lawyer for the hospitals.

As a practical matter, he said, the 4-3 ruling largely affects people who turn 18, legal adulthood, within three years of receiving emergency medical care that their parents refused to pay for. The hospital has three years from treatment to file suit.

Writing for the majority of the state's highest court, Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. said that while the ruling might seem harsh on a patient, it was sound public policy. Judges, he said, considered "not placing hospitals and other emergency health care providers in a situation where apparently financially able individuals may avoid paying for necessary medical treatment through a contrivance similar to that demonstrated on the record of this case."

The ruling stems from a St. Mary's County case in which a 16-year-old Mechanicsville girl received medical care at Prince George's Hospital Center after a 1997 car accident.

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