Filial Responsibility Rule Means Son, Not Father, Must Pay Pennsylvania Elder Law Firm’s Bill for Negotiating Penalty Reduction

A Pennsylvania trial court rules that the son of a Medicaid applicant must pay an elder law firm’s requested fee for successfully negotiating a penalty period reduction because the son would otherwise be responsible for paying the nursing home under the state’s filial responsibility doctrine.  Coates, et al., v. Salmon (Pa. C.P., Mont. Cty., No. 2018-16878, June 23, 2021).

William Salmon, Jr., a lawyer, engaged the services of elder law attorney Andrew A. Coates and his law firm to pursue an appeal of an $86,786 Medicaid penalty that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ County Assistance Office had assessed against Mr. Salmon's father when he applied for Medicaid nursing home benefits. During their initial meeting, Mr. Coates explained to Mr. Salmon that if the penalty were upheld, Mr. Salmon could be held personally liable to the nursing home for the shortfall in payment pursuant to Pennsylvania’s legal doctrine of filial responsibility. As his father’s agent under a power of attorney, Mr. Salmon authorized Mr. Coates to proceed.  Mr. Coates failed to provide Mr. Salmon a written statement of the fees he would charge.

Mr. Coates ultimately reached a settlement with the County Assistance Office to reduce the penalty from $86,786 to $18,380, a savings of $68,406.  Mr. Coates sent Mr. Salmon a bill for $6,465.89, reflecting an hourly rate of $325 and applying a 15 percent “professional courtesy” discount.  Mr. Salmon refused to pay and requested “something much more reasonable.”

On January 14, 2021, the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania, Montgomery County, ruled that because there had been no fee agreement, recovery must be by an action on a quantum meruit.  Mr. Salmon contended that any claim in quantum meruit could be asserted only against his father, and not against Mr. Salmon personally.  Mr. Coates and his firm countered that under Pennsylvania’s doctrine of filial responsibility, Mr. Salmon would have been personally liable for payment of his father's nursing home fees, making Mr. Salmon the beneficiary of Mr. Coates’ legal services and liable for payment. The court ruled in favor of Mr. Coates and his firm for $7,606.64, the amount Mr. Salmon would have owed without the professional courtesy discount. Mr. Salmon has appealed to the Superior Court and in the course of that appeal he filed a Statement of Errors with the Court of Common Pleas. 

In its opinion, the Court of Common Pleas explains the reasoning underlying its earlier decision and addresses Mr. Salmon’s Statement of Errors.

For the full text of this opinion, click here

Our great thanks to York, Pennsylvania, ElderLawAnswers member attorney Robert Clofine for sending us a copy of the decision.