It’s well known that medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy. Even when someone has insurance, he or she may be only one serious illness away from overwhelming medical bills – and the need to seek debt relief.
What happens, however, when the overwhelming medical bills are for a child? If the child’s parents do not pay them, or get them resolved in bankruptcy, is it possible for creditors to collect from the kids once they grow up?
Many bankruptcy experts believe that collectors would be on shaky ground in trying to collect such debts. This is because of the basic legal principle that a minor lacks the capacity to enter into a valid contract. Even if the bills are for the child, the financial responsibility to pay them therefore rests with the parents, not the child.
This line of reasoning would be further supported by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA prohibits debt collection attempts for debts that are not authorized by law. And minors are not authorized by law to enter into financial responsibility agreements with medical care providers.
There is a slight possibility, however, that a child who receives expensive medical services could be sued using a legal theory called “quantum meruit.” The idea is that if someone benefits from services, he or she should reimburse the provider even if there was no express agreement. For example, if someone is brought into a hospital unconscious, there would still be an obligation to pay for emergency treatment.
Extending this reasoning to minors is definitely a big stretch. But it is the kind of scenario that could come up more often, as families struggle to cope with the high cost of medical care and the after-effects of a deep recession that cost so many people their jobs.
Source: “Medical Bills & Minors: What You Should Know,” Huffington Post, 12-10-12
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post. To learn more about our practice, please visit our San Antonio medical debt page.