Pa. High Court Lets Stand Ruling That Son Is Liable for Mother's Nursing Home Bill Under Support Law

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has decided not to hear the appeal of a decision finding a son liable for his mother's $93,000 nursing home bill under the state's filial responsibility law. 

John Pittas' mother entered a nursing home for rehabilitation following a car crash. She later left the nursing home and moved to Greece and a large portion of her bills went unpaid. The nursing home sued Mr. Pittas, one of his mother’s three adult children, for nearly $93,000 under the state's filial support law, which requires a child to provide support for an indigent parent. Both a trial court and an appeals court found Mr. Pittas responsible for his mother’s unpaid nursing home bill, rejecting his arguments that the courts should have considered alternate forms of payment, such as Medicaid, his mother's husband or her two other adult children.

Some 29 states currently have laws making adult children responsible for their parents if their parents can't afford to take care of themselves.  These laws have rarely been enforced – except in Pennsylvania, where the law specifically authorizes suits by third parties such as nursing homes and other health care providers, notes ElderLawAnswers member Jeffrey Marshall in his recent blog post on his state high court’s decision not to hear the case.  

“Using the statute, nursing homes and other providers of care in Pennsylvania have been successfully suing children for the unpaid costs of the services provided to their parents,” Marshall writes.

Marshall reports that bills have been introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate (SB 70) and House (HB 224) to repeal the state’s filial support law, but their outcome is uncertain because both were introduced by Democrats in a Republican-controlled legislature.

To view a four-minute video on the implications of the Pittas decision by Dickinson College of Law Professor Katherine Pearson, arguably the preeminent expert on filial support laws, click here

For an AARP map showing the states with filial support laws and providing citations to the relevant state law, click here.