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Who is responsible for children’s unpaid medical bills?

Medical bills can be a huge problem for anyone, but what if the patient was only a child when the bills were incurred and debt collectors begin hounding a now young adult for the balance due?

In most states, a person under the age of 18 doesn’t have the legal capacity to enter into a contract. Therefore, most medical debt collection efforts directed at this person would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, specifically the unfair practices section that bars the use of unfair means of collecting past due obligations.

However, there is one instance where it might be possible to make an adult responsible for medical debt incurred during childhood. It is called the theory of quantam meruit, and it allows for an equitable claim based on the idea that the minor received services from a medical provider and the medical provider should, in turn, receive compensation for services rendered to the patient. Since this is considered an implied contract, it doesn’t have to be in writing to be enforceable. The question becomes then, how old does the child have to be when treatment is given for the possible use of quantam meruit? The answer to this question mostly depends on state law, but generally, a very young patient can’t be held responsible even in adulthood. However, a patient who received treatment as a teenager could, in some instances, be found responsible.

Legal issues that arise upon entering adulthood are often complicated matters, and if there are debt collectors trying to collect money that should have been paid by the parents, it is doubly hard to manage. A lawyer experienced in bankruptcy law may be able to offer guidance in the fairness of these efforts and may effectively put an end to the collection activity without using the bankruptcy courts.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Medical Bills & Minors: What You Should Know”, Gerri Detweiler, Dec. 10, 2012

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