Yale Diagnostic Radiology v. Estate of Fountain 838 A.2d 179 (Conn. 2003)
FACTS: In March, 1996, Harun Fountain was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range by a playmate. As a result of his injuries, including the loss of his right eye, Fountain required extensive lifesaving medical services from a variety of medical services providers, including Yale Diagnostic Radiology (plaintiff). The expenses at Yale totaled $17,694. Yale billed Vernetta Turner-Tucker (Tucker), Fountain’s mother, but the bill went unpaid and, in 1999, Yale obtained a judgment against her. In January, 2001, all of Tucker’s debts were discharged in bankruptcy, including the Yale judgment. Tucker filed suit against the boy who had shot Fountain. However, Fountain succumbed to his injuries, passing away before the case was settled. The settlement on the tort case was placed into probate court as part of Fountain’s estate. Tucker was the administrator of Fountain’s estate. When the settlement was deposited, Yale asked the probate court for payment of its $17,694 judgment from the estate. DECISION BELOW: The Probate Court denied the motion. Yale appealed to the trial court, and the trial court held for Yale. Tucker and the estate (defendants) appealed. ISSUE ON APPEAL: Can minors be held liable for necessaries when their parents cannot or refuse to pay? DECISION: . . . we conclude that Connecticut recognizes the doctrine of necessaries. We further conclude that, pursuant to the doctrine, the defendants are liable for payment to the plaintiff for the services rendered to Fountain. When a medical service provider renders necessary medical care to an injured minor, two contracts arise: the primary contract between the provider and the minor’s parents; and an implied in law contract between the provider and the minor himself. The primary contract between the provider and the parents is based on the parents’ duty to pay for their children’s necessary expenses, under both common law and statute. Such contracts, where not express, may be implied in fact and generally arise both from the parties’ conduct and their reasonable expectations. The primacy of this contract means that the provider of necessaries must make all reasonable efforts to collect from the parents before resorting to the secondary, implied in law contract with the minor. The present case illustrates the inequity that would arise if no implied in law contract arose between Fountain and plaintiff. Fountain received, through a settlement with the boy who caused his injuries, funds that were calculated, at least in part, on the costs of the medical services provided to him by the plaintiff in the wake of those injuries. This fact further supports a determination of an implied in law contract under the circumstances of the case. Tucker had four years to pay the plaintiff’s bill for the services rendered to Fountain. She did not pay that bill even when the plaintiff pursued a collection action against her. These facts are sufficient to show that Tucker was unwilling or unable to pay for Fountain’s necessary medical services. Affirmed.
Questions 1. Describe the series of events that led to Yale requesting that the minor pay for the medical services. 2. What public policy issues and concerns result from this decision? 3. What benefits does the decision provide?