Legal Question in Business Law in California

contract law

She was rendered unconscious and seriously injured in an auto accident.The paramedics delivered her to the hospital emergency rm.the hospital provided around the clock care until she died 2 weeks later,never having regained consciousness.can the hospital recover from her estate?

Asked on 2/14/06, 6:28 pm

3 Answers from Attorneys

Ken Koenen Koenen & Tokunaga, P.C.

Re: contract law

Of course. If not, who would provide care for someone seriously injured?

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Answered on 2/14/06, 6:59 pm
Robert F. Cohen Law Office of Robert F. Cohen

Re: contract law

The estate is liable for all of decedent's debts if the creditor makes a timely claim as set forth in the Probate Code.

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Answered on 2/14/06, 7:10 pm
Bryan Whipple Bryan R. R. Whipple, Attorney at Law

Re: contract law

The previous answers are correct, but you'll never understand how this result is reached if you stay within the confines of contract law.

The estate has an obligation to pay, but it isn't based on contract. A contract requires some kind of meeting of the minds; it is an agreement. Clearly, someone who is unconscious cannot make a contract, and indeed here there is no contract.

Instead, the obligation to pay is based upon what is called quasi-contract. The concept of a quasi-contract was introduced into English common law by an English (Scottish-born) judge of the King's Bench, Lord Mansfield, in the 1760 decision in Moses vs. Mcferlane. The concept is that, although there is no contract, the law will imply an obligation to pay for goods or services furnished in limited circumstances where non-payment would result in an "unjust enrichment" of the recipient.

Although the example you cite (an unconscious patient receiving medical services) is a classic example of a situation giving rise to a quasi-contract, another might be as follows: A 19th-Century rancher is trapped in town by a blizzard and can't get back to his ranch to feed his stock. A neighbor, without being asked, provides feed until the rancher can get back, thus saving the herd from injury or starvation. A court, if requested, would probably order the benefitted rancher to pay the good Samaritan neighbor the fair value of the feed furnished, and possibly also the fair value of the neighbor's time in doing the feeding. The court's logic would be that the rancher certainly would have contracted for the feeding, had he been able. The judgment prevents an unjust enrichment.

The quasi-contract principle would not, however, be invoked to require you to pay a house painter who painted your house while you were away on the theory that "it really needed painting." The distinction might be expressed as, if you tolerated the unpainted house the day before you left, you'd probably have been OK with it that way when you returned -- but that would certainly not be the case with starving livestock.

An interesting side note in the example you give is that the hospital, doctors, etc. might not be able to collect "full price;" recovery in quasi contract, since there is no contract, is limited to the "fair value" of what's furnished, not its list price.

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Answered on 2/15/06, 1:58 am

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