Recent Court Cases


A number of recent court decisions deal with issues important to the elderly and the disabled. A sampling of issues from other states:

Medicaid Recovery

Elizabeth Craig’s husband Norman received $4,373.79 worth of Medicaid coverage in Wayne County, New York, prior to his death in 1983. The state Medicaid agency took no steps to recover any portion of that care from Mrs. Craig or from Mr. Craig’s estate.

Mrs. Craig, in turn, became ill and received $10,478 in Medicaid coverage prior to her 1989 death. After her death, her estate was valued at just over $27,000.

New York has an active estate recovery program, which regularly seeks reimbursement from the estates of Medicaid recipients after death. Mrs. Craig’s estate agreed that her personal debt (the $10,478 portion) should be repaid, but refused to honor demands for $7,614 (including interest) for Mr. Craig’s care.

The Court agreed with Mrs. Craig’s estate, finding that the state Medicaid agency had no power to collect from Mrs. Craig for Mr. Craig’s care during her life, and that her death did not make her estate liable. The Court also notes that the outcome might have been different if the new OBRA 1993 rules had applied. Matter of the Estate of Elizabeth Craig (New York Court of Appeals, November 18, 1993).

Nursing Home Not Liable for Stolen Property

Prior to placing her in an Ohio nursing home, Martha Leslein’s son purchased a special identification bracelet to be permanently affixed to her wrist. The bracelet cost $400, and could be removed only with a special tool; its purpose was to guarantee that Mrs. Leslein could be identified if she became confused while in the nursing home.

Two years later, when Mrs. Leslein was discharged from the nursing home, the bracelet was missing. Her son deducted $400 from the last nursing home payment, arguing that the home’s negligence was responsible for loss of the bracelet. The home sued for the withheld payment.

Although a small claims court ruled in favor of Mrs. Leslein, the Ohio Court of Appeals was persuaded that the nursing home’s admissions contract protected it from liability. Pataskala Oaks Care Center v. Leslein (Ohio Court of Appeals, October 4, 1993).

Attorney’s Duty to Determine Client’s Capacity

Linda Gonsalves, a California attorney, prepared a Will for her client Dorothy Dvorak. Her niece later challenged the Will, alleging that Mrs. Dvorak suffered from hallucinations and depression, and did not understand what she had signed.

Mrs. Dvorak’s niece also sued Ms. Gonsalves, claiming that she was injured by Mrs. Gonsalves’ alleged failure to investigate Mrs. Dvorak’s competence. The California Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the attorney, determining that she had found Mrs. Dvorak to be competent based on her own observations.

In any event, the Court reasoned, Mrs. Gonsalves owed her duty to Mrs. Dvorak and not to her niece. The Court therefore dismissed the niece’s complaint. Gonsalves v. Alameda County Superior Court (California Court of Appeals, October 29, 1993).

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