Nursing Homes Threaten Illegal Lawsuits Against Family Members to Collect Debt

Can a nursing home sue me for an outstanding debt?

We are in the midst of a medical debt crisis, and it is disproportionally impacting older Americans. Medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcies. Thousands of people nationwide struggle to pay for the medical care they need to keep themselves and their loved ones in good health.

When we receive an official bill from a medical provider in the mail, we assume the debt is valid. However, a much more sinister scheme is coming to light regarding long term care invoices. In certain states, nursing homes have been showing an increasing trend of suing their residents’ loved ones in order to force the families into paying what the facilities are owed—even when they have no legal authority to do so.

Nursing Homes are Illegally Collecting Debts from Unrelated Parties

In an effort to make more money, nursing home corporations around the U.S. are suing anyone who “might” owe them money. The residents, as well as their families and friends, are being threatened into paying outstanding bills to the facilities. Oftentimes, the people being threatened with a lawsuit have no financial obligation to the nursing home and were not involved in the creation of the outstanding amounts. Nursing homes are going after the residents’ adult children, siblings, and even unrelated friends, all in an effort to get paid.

These lawsuits are not for minor bills, either. Many of nursing home debt collection claims demand payment of over $10,000, with some exceeding $100,000, as reported by Kaiser Health News. Nursing homes are additionally asking for usurious interest rates to be attached to the debt—sometimes up to 18%.

Victims of Predatory Nursing Home Collection Techniques are Often Unaware of Their Rights

This practice of suing for unpaid debt has affected many people. Nursing home residents are targets for predatory billing practices, but they are not the majority of those caught in nursing home debt lawsuits. Only about a third involve residents or their spouses. Most of the people affected are relatives, friends, or even neighbors of the residents.

In more than half of cases, these people have no business being involved in such a situation, since they have no financial or legal authority to act for or on behalf of the residents. Most commonly, the person who is being sued does not have power of attorney for the resident. Furthermore, a significant portion of the friends and family being contacted are accused of concealing assets—an act comparable to stealing—but with no recorded evidence. This is often done alongside the claim that they are hiding these funds to avoid paying the debts. In other words, nursing homes are claiming that families are making residents seem less financially solvent than they are by hiding their assets, all so that the residents do not have to pay their bills.

Sometimes the wrong people get sued, such as in the case where a woman was targeted for debts allegedly related to her mother, only for the court to discover that the resident was her cousin. Another home promised a man he would not be financially obligated in his estranged mother’s care, only to turn around and sue him for what she owed.

How Are Nursing Homes Allowed to Sue for the Debt of Another Person?

To pursue these lawsuits, nursing homes employ a number of strategies. Most often, they hide agreements that could place responsibility onto third parties, like family members or powers of attorney, deep within a large stack of admission paperwork. People go through the paperwork quickly and miss these clauses. The signer may then be listed as the person responsible for assisting the resident with paying their debts if and when they become owed.

When nursing homes claim that friends and families of the residents are stealing or hiding money (and that claim is a regular occurrence), those who do have a little money to spare often end up paying debts they are not responsible for, simply because they are afraid of the legal consequences.

The nursing homes, meanwhile, argue that these lawsuits are the best course of action, since residents must be cared for somehow, and that cannot be accomplished without the money they are owed. And when nobody pays their debts, the facility must go to the courts.

Are Nursing Homes Successful in Collecting Debt from the Wrong Party?

Nursing home companies employ these techniques because they work. Sadly, nursing homes know that an ordinary person cannot adequately defend themselves in court. Even the act of responding to the lawsuit is difficult for some people, with most victims foregoing an attorney because of the high cost. In situations like this, there have been many cases where people lost the lawsuit by default by failing to reply.

This problem is only getting worse, trends indicate. The nursing homes that are the basis of the problem are pushing harder than ever to collect the money they are owed. Sadly, average people are caught unawares and paying the debt in lieu of fighting a costly legal battle in court. 

“Immoral and Illegal” Nursing Home Billing Practices

This practice of suing third parties for nursing home debts is frowned upon by most industry experts. The various methods the facilities use to accomplish their goals range from morally questionable to illegal.

There are federal laws in place to keep residents and their family and friends safe from this kind of aggressive collection. Nevertheless, some nursing homes have created and enacted their own subtle strategies to dig out loopholes.

According to experts, these lawsuits are not the norm across the country, but they do routinely show up in courts in New York, California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Kentucky, and Ohio.

Experts also generally agree that requiring a family member or friend to risk their finances to guarantee their loved one’s payment is not fair to that person. It is also illegal, to the point that nursing homes aren’t even allowed to ask for these assurances.

However, agreements that attempt to secure these guarantees anyway are often buried in admission paperwork and slide by unnoticed. Sometimes facilities don’t bring up the topic, and sometimes they make an illegal move to outright tell loved ones that the agreement is required.

What Can I Do if a Nursing Home is Threatening to Sue Me for a Debt Owed by my Parent, Sibling, or Friend?

Your best bet is to speak with an attorney at your local legal aid office in your county.  This kind of attorney can help you determine if the nursing home debt is truly owed by you, or if this is just a shakedown by a predatory nursing home billing company.

Our law firm solely focuses on nursing home injury cases like bed sores, broken bones, or wrongful death claims. We do not accept any nursing home billing dispute issues, so unfortunately, we cannot help you dispute an outstanding nursing home balance.

However, if your loved one was wrongfully injured or died due to facility negligence, our attorneys may be able to assist with a claim against the facility for the non-economic (pain and suffering) harm that was caused.

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