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Hospital Lien Invalid in Wrongful Death Suit.

CASE ON POINT: St. Anthony's Medical Center v. Metze, (ED76169) S.W.2d - MO (2000)

ISSUE: In most cases hospital liens are enforceable as long as hospitals follow applicable state laws and file appropriate notices with the parties designated by law. However what about the validity of hospital liens in wrongful death cases? Does the fact that the plaintiffs in wrongful death cases are suing the parties responsible for loss of consortium negate liens?

CASE FACTS: On January 21, 1992, Marjorie McClain was involved in a motor vehicle accident which caused serious injuries to the mother of Linda Metze and Phyllis Weaver. The accident victim was admitted to St. Anthony's Medical Center. Phyllis Weaver signed her Mother's name to an Agreement for Payment and Assignment of Benefits (Agreement). She placed her initials next to the signature. The Agreement provided for full payment of all charges the patient incurred for hospital services and materials furnished to the patient by the hospital. The hospital bill totaled approximately $170,000. The patient did not survive the injuries sustained in the motor vehicle accident. She died on April 2, 1992. On April 21, 1992, Phyllis Weaver filed a Petition for Letters of Administration for the decedent's estate. She filed an Inventory and Appraisal indicating that the decedent's personal property was valued at approximately $7,000. On June 12, 1992, the hospital sent a Notice of Hospital Lien to the Administratix's attorney in an attempt to place "a lien upon any and all claims, counter-claims, demands, suits and rights of action on account of the following personal injury claim" in the amount of approximately $170,000. The hospital also filled a claim against the decedent's estate in the probate court for the same amount for necessary medical care and treatment owed by the decedent. On June 23, 1992, Phyllis Weaver and Linda Metze, in their personal capacities as the daughters of the decedent, filed suit against Marjorie McClain for wrongful death of their mother. They alleged that as a result of the defendant McClain's negligence their mother suffered critical injuries resulting in her death. They also alleged that they "were caused to expend in excess of $200,000 for medical and funeral expenses" for their mother. On June 26, 1992, they filed a Report and Acknowledgment of Receipt of Satisfaction of Judgment with the court stating that the wrongful death suit had been settled for $500,000, with $374,000 being paid directly to them and the remainder paid to their attorneys for attorneys' fees and costs. The court entered a final judgment approving the settlement. On November 3, 1997, the hospital filed a Petition for Discovery of Assets The decedent's daughters filed a motion to dismiss. The Circuit Court of St. Louis County dismissed the hospital's claim. The hospital appealed.

COURT'S OPINION: The District Court of Appeals of Missouri affirmed the judgment of the lower court. The court noted that the Missouri Supreme Court analyzed the inter play between the wrongful death and hospital lien statutes under facts similar to those in the case at bar. The court observed that both statutes were clear and unambiguous, and left no room for construction. The court held that because a wrongful death settlement is for the use and benefit of those who sue or are entitled to sue, and because wrongful death is not a claim or cause of action brought on the part of the injured person, a hospital lien does not attach to the settlement of a wrongful death claim.

LEGAL COMMENTARY: The court rejected the hospital's contention that the lien should attach to the wrongful death proceeds because the decedent's daughters alleged and recovered for the hospital expenses incurred by the decedent in addition to that for loss of consortium. This was specifically considered and rejected by the Missouri Supreme Court in the case of American Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ward, 774 S.W.2d 135 (Mo. banc 1989). The court determined that "regardless of what types of damages are recoverable,... the law only provides settlement for those who are entitled to sue." The court found that the hospital failed to cite any case law distinguishing the holding of American Family from the facts in the case at bar. Likewise, the court rejected the hospital's argument that it was unjust to allow the decedent's daughters to receive a "windfall." The court noted that the Missouri Supreme Court, in American stated that the plain meaning of the hospital lien and wrongful death statutes indicates an intent that the hospital lien will not attach to proceeds of wrongful death settlement. The court can only apply the law as written.
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Article Details
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
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