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January 2, 2020

NY Appellate Court Holds Adult Children Have No Legal Duty of Care for Their Parents

The issue in Santoro v. Poughkeepsie Crossings, LLC was whether a residential health care facility had a viable third-party claim for indemnification or contribution against a caregiver for injuries sustained by her mother. On December 11, 2019, the Appellate Division, Second Department concluded that no legal duty of care is created when an adult child cares for a parent.

Sandra Santoro commenced the main action as the executor of the estate of her mother, Inez Salvatore, alleging Poughkeepsie Crossings failed to provide adequate treatment to Salvatore while she was a patient at its rehabilitation facility following a heart attack. On March 30, 2015, Salvatore fell at Poughkeepsie Crossings, fracturing several ribs and puncturing her lung. After a brief hospital stay, she returned to Poughkeepsie Crossings for several weeks before she was discharged to her home, where she had lived with Santoro since 1999. Within days of returning home, Salvatore fell while walking to a portable commode near her bed and fractured her hip. She died in the hospital 10 days later from septic shock, which was allegedly brought on by the injuries she sustained in her fall at Poughkeepsie Crossings.

In response to Santoro’s main action, Poughkeepsie Crossings commenced a third-party action against her seeking common-law indemnification and contribution for negligent supervision of her mother in failing to follow its discharge instructions. Santoro moved to dismiss the third-party complaint for failure to state a cause of action, arguing there was no cognizable claim for an adult child’s failure to provide adequate supervision to a parent or other adult family member. The motion was denied by the trial court.

The Second Department reversed the lower court and dismissed the indemnity claim because Poughkeepsie Crossings had not alleged any scenario under which it could be held vicariously or statutorily liable for any negligence of Santoro; any liability imposed upon Poughkeepsie Crossings for Salvatore’s injuries would be by virtue of its own conduct, not Santoro’s. The contribution claim was similarly dismissed because Santoro owed no legal duty to care for her mother. The Second Department explained there was no duty, created by common law, statute, or contract, requiring Santoro to care for her mother. Additionally, Santoro did not assume a legal obligation to care for Salvatore consistent with Poughkeepsie Crossings’ discharge instructions merely by bringing her mother home.

Many families find themselves in a situation where adult children care for their aging and ill parents as they intermittently reside in hospitals and nursing facilities. The Santoro case provides guidance on how a court will analyze whether a duty of care applies to an adult child caring for a sick or aging parent and whether any claims may be maintained by a hospital or assisted living or skilled nursing facility against the adult child.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact John Gaughan, partner, at jgaughan@barclaydamon.com or another member of the firm’s Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.

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