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Nursing Care Services, Inc. v. Dobos

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff sued Defendant for $3,723.90, the amount owed for Defendant’s around-the-clock nursing care. Defendant refused to pay, arguing that she did not authorize the care. The trial court awarded Plaintiff $248 for the two days of post-release care that Defendant or her daughter had authorized. Plaintiff appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The law imposes liability on a party where the party would be unjustly enriched at the expense of another if she were allowed to escape payment for services rendered or work performed.

    Facts.

    Dobos (Defendant) was admitted to Boca Raton Community Hospital with an abdominal aneurysm. Defendant's doctor ordered around-the-clock nursing care and transferred Defendant to the care of Nursing Care Services, Inc. (Plaintiff). Plaintiff provided two weeks of in-hospital care, two days of post-release care, and two weeks of in-home care, for which Defendant was later billed $3,723.90. Defendant refused to pay for Plaintiff’s services, arguing that she never signed a written contract or orally agreed to do so. After a bench trial, Plaintiff was awarded $248 for the two days of post-release care that Defendant or her daughter had authorized. No other compensation was awarded, because Defendant was not sufficiently informed that she would be responsible for paying for those services. Plaintiff appealed that portion of the judgment.

    Issue.

    Whether a patient is liable for the costs of emergency nursing services she did not expressly request or agree to receive.

    Held.

    Yes. The trial court’s ruling is reversed and the case is remanded with instructions to enter judgment in Plaintiff’s favor for the full $3,273.90, plus interest and costs. The law imposes liability on a party where the party would be unjustly enriched at the expense of another if she were allowed to escape payment for services rendered or work performed.

    Discussion.

    Plaintiff failed to prove an express contract or a contract implied in fact, but there is sufficient evidence to support a contract implied in law entitling Plaintiff to recovery. A contract implied in law, sometimes called quasi-contracts, are "obligations imposed by law on grounds of justice and equity." The doctrine was created in order to prevent unjust enrichment. In the case of service contracts, there is no question that a party who knowingly accepts the benefit of services performed by another would be unjustly enriched if allowed to avoid paying for those services. Of course, it naturally follows that liability will not be imposed on a party who did not know about or voluntarily accept such services; this is called the officious intermeddler doctrine. The exception to this rule is that liability may be imposed for the provision of emergency services without a party's knowing assent, provided the services were meant to avoid serious bodily injury or death and the provider had no reason to suspect the party would not assent. There is no requirement of agreement between the parties for a contract implied in law to be created. In this case, Defendant was clearly in need of emergency care, and there was no question of her doctor’s professional judgment in ordering the nursing services or of the necessity of those services to Defendant's recovery. Thus, Plaintiff's provision of in-hospital services clearly falls within the emergency services exception. Further, Defendant knowingly accepted the in-home care provided by Plaintiff. Defendant would be unjustly enriched if Plaintiff were not compensated for its services.


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