Judges Opinions, — November 6, 2013 11:43 — 0 Comments

In re: Estate of Makeen A. Nazeeri, deceased, No. 2006-00514

Decedent’s Estate – Claim Against Estate – Burden of Proof – Medical Services – Standard of Care – Set-Off Distinguished from Defense to Claim – Auditor’s Proceeding.

  1. Objector cites several cases in support of its contention that where the statute of limitations may be successfully set up against a claim sought to be enforced in an action of assumpsit, it may also be set up against the same claim when it is sought to be used as a set off.
  2. While the term is sometimes loosely employed, a set-off is a counter-demand arising out of a transaction extrinsic to the plaintiff’s cause of action, and therefore, is not incompatible with the justice of the plaintiff’s claim but seeks to balance it in whole or in part by a counter-obligation alleged to be due by the plaintiff to the defendant in another transaction.
  3. The Court agreed that the quality of the services which were involved in this claim were relevant and could be considered in resolving this dispute.
  4. In general, when parties enter a contract for the provision of services, the party providing the service must perform those services in a good and workmanlike manner and this duty has been imposed in contracts for professional services.
  5. It is a hospital’s primary duty to protect the health and welfare of patients in their care.
  6. Claims for services against a decedent’s estate must be subjected to the closest scrutiny and must be established by direct, clear and convincing evidence.  The burden of proof lies upon the claimant.
  7. The Court held that Objector Hospital had a duty to perform the services involved in this matter in a workmanlike manner and, also, that Objector had the duty to prove that it fulfilled this duty.  Therefore, it further held that the Administrator of the Estate should be permitted to raise issues regarding the quality of the services Objector provided to decedent which are included in the claim submitted against the Estate.

Motion Requesting Status Conference.  C.P. of Lebanon County, Civil Action-Law, No. 2006-00514.

John E. Feather, Esquire,

and Wiley P. Parker, Esquire, for Administrator

Mark D. Bradshaw, Esquire, for Objector Youville Hospital

 

 

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

ORPHAN’S COURT DIVISION

 

IN RE:  ESTATE OF                                      :           NO. 2006-00514

MAKEEN A. NAZEERI,                             :

Deceased                              :

 

ORDER OF COURT

 

AND NOW, this 5th day of August, 2013, after a Status Conference with the parties, and in accordance with our Order entered on May 2, 2013, upon consideration of the Briefs submitted by Administrator and Objector and Oral Argument, it is hereby Ordered that issues regarding Objector Youville Hospital’s professional negligence are relevant to the resolution of Objector’s claim against the Estate of Makeen A. Nazeeri and may be raised in further proceedings involving this claim.    The parties are directed to provide full and complete responses to any requests for information related to this issue during the remainder of discovery proceedings in this action.

BY THE COURT:

 

                                                                        _____________________________, P.J.

                                                                        JOHN C. TYLWALK

 

JCT/jah

Cc:  John J. Ferry, Jr., Esquire, Auditor/931 Cumberland Street/Lebanon, PA 17042

John E. Feather, Esquire/Feather & Feather/22 West Main Street/Annville, PA

17003

Wiley P. Parker, Esquire/Henry & Beaver LLP/937 Willow Street/P.O. Box

1140/Lebanon, PA  17042-1140

Mark D. Bradshaw/Stevens & Lee, P.C./17 North 2nd Street, 16th

Floor/Harrisburg, PA  17101

Judith A. Huber, Esquire, Law Clerk

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF LEBANON COUNTY

PENNSYLVANIA

ORPHAN’S COURT DIVISION

 

IN RE:  ESTATE OF                                      :           NO. 2006-00514

MAKEEN A. NAZEERI,                             :

Deceased                              :

 

APPEARANCES:

JOHN E. FEATHER, JR., ESQUIRE           FOR ADMINISTRATOR

WILEY P. PARKER, ESQUIRE

 MARK D. BRADSHAW, ESQUIRE          FOR OBJECTOR YOUVILLE HOSPITAL

 

OPINION, TYLWALK, P.J., AUGUST 5, 2013.

 

Makeen A. Nazeeri (“Decedant”) died in Lebanon County on July 29, 2006.  On September 11, 2006, Letters of Administration were granted to Musaddiq N. Nazeeri, M.D. (“Administrator”) by the Register of Wills of Lebanon County.  On April 3, 2007, Objector Youville Hospital (“Objector”) submitted a claim against the Estate of Makeen A. Nazeeri (“Estate”) in the amount of $694,735.30 for medical care it had provided to Decedent during the period from June 2005 through January 28, 2006.  Administrator filed a First and Final Account with Lebanon County Orphan’s Court on March 7, 2008 in which no provision was made for payment of Objector’s claim. Administrator denied Objector’s claim based on his determination that Objector had been negligent in the medical care it had provided to Decedent.    Objector filed Objections to the Account on April 7, 2008.

John J. Ferry, Jr., Esquire was appointed Auditor on July 2, 2008.   On September 8, 2008 Ferry conducted a pre-hearing conference to define the issues to be dealt with at a hearing on the Objections.  On October 10, 2008, Ferry filed a Motion for Extension of Time to file his Auditor’s Report.  In the Motion, Ferry indicated that after the pre-hearing conference, he had determined that the resolution of the issues involved in Objector’s claim were “unusually complex” and necessitated the opportunity for the parties to engage in discovery.  He further indicated that he intended to hold a hearing on the matter in December 2008.  The Motion was granted by Order of Court dated October 13, 2008, with the Auditor’s Report to be filed by January 15, 2009.

Thereafter, the parties proceeded with discovery and both sought certain  information regarding the Estate’s allegations of Objector’s professional negligence.  During discovery, several disputes arose which necessitated the parties to request intervention by this Court.  No hearing on the Objections has yet been held and the Auditor’s Report has not been filed.  On April 3, 2012, Objector filed a Motion requesting a Status Conference and the Court conducted a Status Conference on May 2, 2013.  On that date, after discussion with counsel, we issued an Order in which we noted that:

“1.  After discussion with counsel, it has been agreed that prior to this case moving forward, the Court must first determine whether a medical malpractice claim can be raised in an estate accounting to defeat a claim for medical services provided for the deceased.”

 

(Order of May 2, 2013, Para. 1)  The parties have filed Briefs on this issue, we have had the benefit of Oral Argument, and the matter is now before us for resolution.

We must first note that we do not believe that proceedings before an Auditor for the settlement of an estate are the appropriate vehicle for pursuing a medical malpractice action to recover damages.  However, this is not the situation here.  Administrator is not seeking damages on behalf of the Estate for Objector’s negligence in the medical care it provided to Decedent.  Instead, Administrator is challenging the value of the services provided to Decedent.

We also note that no malpractice action was ever filed in an effort to recover damages on the basis of Objector’s medical malpractice and that the statutory limitation period for bringing such an action has long since expired.[1]  Objector argues that once a claim is precluded by the expiration of the statute of limitation period, it is also time barred when raised as a defense to a claim asserted by another party.  It posits that because a medical malpractice claim based on allegations of its professional negligence was already time-barred prior to the Estate’s Accounting and the Objections being filed, questions regarding the quality of care are now irrelevant and that the Estate is thus precluded from raising such issues as a defense to Objector’s claim for payment.

Objector cites several cases in support of its contention that “where the statute of limitations may be successfully set up against a claim sought to be enforced in an action of assumpsit, it may also be set up against the same claim when it is sought to be used as a set-off.”  See, Woodland Oil Co. v. A.M. Byers & Co., 72 A. 518 (Pa. 1909), citing to State Hospital v. Philadelphia County, 54 A. 1032 (Pa. 1903) and Hinkley v. Walters, 8 Watts 260, 1839 WL 3569 (Pa. 1839).  We agree with this proposition, but find that it is not dispositive of this matter.

“While the term is sometimes loosely employed, a set-off is a counter-demand arising out of a transaction extrinsic to the plaintiff’s cause of action, and therefore is not incompatible with the justice of the plaintiff’s claim but seeks to balance it in whole or in part by a counter-obligation alleged to be due by the plaintiff to the defendant in another transaction.”  Davis v. Martin, 52 Pa. D. & C. 449, 451 (C.C.P. Mercer Cnty. 1945), quoting Beason v. Pierce, 184 A. 650, 651 (Pa. 1936).           Administrator explains that the Estate is not attempting to assert any set-off against the claim submitted by Objector, but, instead contends that the Objector’s alleged negligence affects the value of the medical services provided to Decedent.  We agree that the quality of the services which are involved in this claim are relevant and may be considered in resolving this dispute.

In general, when parties enter a contract for the provision of services, the party providing the service must perform those services in a good and workmanlike manner and this duty has been imposed in contracts for professional services.  See, LLMD of Michigan, Inc. v. Jackson-Cross Co., 740 A.2d 186 (Pa. 1999) (expert witness in area of real estate counseling hired for litigation purposes may be sued for professional malpractice for failure to perform analysis in workmanlike manner); Youngman v. Miller, 98 Pa. 196 1881 WL 13816 (Pa. 1881) (law implies that attorneys will perform legal services in workmanlike manner); Wheaton v. Rubin, 57 A.2d 589 (Pa. Super. 1948) (dentist); Industrial Ceramics, Inc. v. Dept. of Labor and Industiry, State Worker’s Insurance Fund, 629 A.2d 245 (Pa. Commw. 1993)(insurers); Metropolitan Edison Co. v. United Engineers & Contractors, Inc., 4 Pa. C. & C. 3d 473 (C.C.P. Phila. Cnty. 1977) (contractors/engineers).  In addition, it is a hospital’s primary duty to protect the health and welfare of patients in their care. See Elias v. Lancaster General Hospital, 710 A.2d 65, 68 (Pa. Super. 1998), citing Thompson v. Nason Hospital, 591 A.2d 703 (Pa. Super. 1991).

Claims for services against a decedent’s estate must be subjected to the closest scrutiny and must be established by direct, clear and convincing evidence.  In re Estate of Hain, 346 A.2d 774 (Pa. 1975).  The burden of proof lies upon the claimant.  Estate of Allen, 412 A.2d 833 (Pa. 1980).  Thus, a physician filing a claim against the estate of deceased patient must prove the value of services rendered to the patient and the Orphan’s Court has discretion to determine the value of those medical services in estate account matters.  In re McKeehan’s Estate, 57 A. 2d 907 (Pa. 1948).

For these reasons, we hold that Objector had a duty to perform the services involved in this matter in a workmanlike manner and, also, that Objector has the duty to prove that it fulfilled this duty.  Therefore, Administrator should be permitted to raise issues regarding the quality of the services Objector provided to Decedent which are included in the claim submitted against the Estate.  Our determination that such information is relevant in this proceeding requires that the parties comply with any discovery requests of this nature.  We will enter an appropriate Order.

 

 



[1] A two-year limitation period is applicable to such an action in negligence pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. §5524.  Administrator’s letter dated December 4, 2008 reveals that he knew of his cause of action at least by that time.  (Exhibit “A” to Administrator’s Supplemental Response to Discovery Request from Claimant, Youville Hospital.  Answers to Written Interrogatories Propounded in a Letter From Youville Hospital Hospital Counsel, Mark D. Bradshaw Dated Sept. 23, 2008” which is attached as Exhibit “A” to Estate’s Brief filed June 13, 2013)  Using that date, the limitation period would have expired on December 4, 2010.

About the author

Ben has written 982 articles for Lebanon County Legal Journal

Search