As strides in medical treatments and technologies continue to be made, the life expectancy of Americans continues to rise. However, notwithstanding the benefits associated with increased life expectancy, many of those of advanced age will need living assistance of some variety at some point, including hospice care in the later stages of life. Unfortunately, allegations associated with the mistreatment of this vulnerable population are not uncommon, and courts in our state often find themselves tasked with the unenviable job of addressing liability for injuries to our elderly population. Indeed, in a recent decision, Carter v. VistaCARE, LLC, the Court of Appeals addressed a pair of trial court orders dismissing claims of fraud, negligence, and battery against a local hospice care provider.
This litigation was initially brought by a resident of the hospice facility operated by the defendant in this case. During the course of litigation, the plaintiff died, and her estate was substituted as plaintiff in the action. Following the substitution of litigating party, the estate voluntarily dismissed the action. About six months later, the estate filed a new complaint asserting claims for fraud, negligence, and battery. In relevant part, the new complaint alleged that the decedent’s primary care physician had ordered that she be given home health care services but that the defendant took it upon itself to place the decedent in hospice care, even though the decedent did not qualify for such services. The estate claimed that the provision of hospice services, including the administration of morphine, caused damage to the decedent’s health and ultimately resulted in her hospitalization. The defendant moved to dismiss, which the trial court granted with respect to the claims of battery and negligence claims but denied with respect to the fraud claim. The defendant later moved for summary judgment on the remaining fraud claim, and in a subsequent order the trial court granted the motion for summary judgment on that claim. Following dismissal of the fraud claim, the estate brought the instant appeal, arguing that the trial court erred in dismissing the claims.