Shands Teaching Hosp. and Clinics, Inc. v. Smith

Decision Date13 November 1986
Docket NumberNo. 68237,68237
Citation497 So.2d 644,11 Fla. L. Weekly 577
Parties11 Fla. L. Weekly 577 SHANDS TEACHING HOSPITAL AND CLINICS, INC., Petitioner, v. Rebecca SMITH, Respondent.
CourtFlorida Supreme Court

David E. Mathias and David A. Roberts, III, Gainesville, for petitioner.

Hal Castillo of Lewis, Paul, Isaac & Castillo, P.A., Jacksonville, for respondent.

William A. Bell, Tallahassee, and Constance J. Kaplan and Barry R. Lerner of Bacen & Kaplan, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for Florida Hosp. Ass'n, amicus curiae.

SHAW, Justice.

We review Shands Teaching Hospital & Clinics v. Smith, 480 So.2d 1366 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985), to resolve certified direct conflict with Parkway General Hospital, Inc. v. Stern, 400 So.2d 166 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981), and Manatee Convalescent Center, Inc. v. McDonald, 392 So.2d 1356 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980). Art. V, § 3(b)(4), Fla. Const.

Petitioner Shands Hospital provided medical services to the now deceased husband of respondent. The husband entered into an agreement binding him as the guarantor for all charges not paid by an insuror, but respondent never agreed in writing to pay for the services provided her husband. Following the death of the husband, petitioner brought suit on the unpaid balance against respondent relying on the theory that a wife is responsible for providing necessaries to a husband just as a husband is to a wife under the common law. Parkway General Hospital; Manatee Convalescent Center. The trial court declined to follow these authorities and dismissed the suit, finding that the common law imposed no liability on a wife for the necessaries of her husband. The first district court of appeal affirmed, reasoning that the common law of necessaries countenanced by Phillips v. Sanchez, 35 Fla. 187, 17 So. 363 (1895), had not been altered by this Court or by the constitution or statute and it would be improper for a district court to overrule a controlling precedent of this Court. Hoffman v. Jones, 280 So.2d 431, 434 (Fla.1973). The district court below also expressed the view that this issue was one which was most appropriate for legislative, not judicial, resolution.

Under the common law doctrine of necessaries, a husband who was derelict in furnishing food, shelter, and medical services to his wife was liable to a third party who provided those necessaries to the wife. However, because a wife was deemed legally incapable of incurring an obligation independent of her husband and because the husband was legally, and exclusively, responsible for providing the necessaries for the entire family unit, there was no reciprocal liability on the part of the wife to a third party for providing the necessaries of the husband. Phillips. Similarly, until the enactment of chapter 71-241, Laws of Florida, only the husband was responsible for the payment of alimony or child support in the event of divorce or dissolution of marriage. Ch. 61, Fla.Stat. (1969).

Both parties agree, as do we, that it is an anachronism to hold the husband responsible for the necessaries of the wife without also holding the wife responsible for the necessaries of the husband. At this point, however, the parties positions diverge. Petitioner argues that the marital partnership benefits when one spouse or partner receives medical services and that these benefits, which both spouses or partners receive, give rise to an implied-in-law contract. Accordingly, petitioner argues, the second spouse should be liable for these services as a matter of equity in order to prevent unjust enrichment. Respondent denies that she received any benefit or unjust enrichment from the medical services received by her deceased husband. Moreover, respondent urges, petitioner should have either sought her guaranty of the medical bills prior to rendering them or looked to the assets of the deceased husband.

The difficulty with these arguments is that both have merit and we are being asked to establish a fixed rule of law that the wife is or is not liable when the issue is one of equity which can only be determined based on the particular equities of a given factual situation. We can easily visualize instances where it would be inequitable to hold either a wife or a husband 1 liable for medical services rendered to a spouse, just as we can visualize instances where it would be inequitable not to hold either spouse liable for medical services received by the other spouse. Two conclusions are apparent from this decisional quandary. The first is that the issue is one with broad social implications, the resolution of which requires input from husbands, wives,...

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  • Williams v. Hook
    • United States
    • Oklahoma Supreme Court
    • December 26, 1990
    ...Gray v. Suggs, 292 Ark. 19, 728 S.W.2d 148 (1987); Durepo v. Fishman, 533 A.2d 264, 266 (Me.1987); Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics, Inc. v. Smith, 497 So.2d 644, 646 (Fla.1986); Lee v. Colorado Dept., 718 P.2d 221, 234 (Colo.1986); DeAngelis v. Lutheran Medical Center, 58 N.Y.2d 1053, 462 N......
  • Burkhart v. Harrod
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • May 5, 1988
    ...questions based on a societal consensus.' " Bankston v. Brennan, 507 So.2d 1385, 1387 (Fla.1987) (quoting Shands Teaching Hosp. & Clinics, Inc. v. Smith, 497 So.2d 644, 646 (Fla.1986)). It is for this very reason that public policy usually is declared by the Legislature, and not by the cour......
  • Krischer v. McIver
    • United States
    • Florida Supreme Court
    • July 17, 1997
    ...no evidence introduced to demonstrate the effect of Mr. Hall's suicide upon innocent third parties.5 In Shands Teaching Hospital & Clinics, Inc. v. Smith, 497 So.2d 644, 646 (Fla.1986), we acknowledged that:[O]f the three branches of government, the judiciary is the least capable of receivi......
  • Connor v. Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center, Inc.
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    • Florida Supreme Court
    • December 21, 1995
    ...Id. at 1358. Accord Parkway Gen. Hosp., Inc. v. Stern, 400 So.2d 166 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981). However, in Shands Teaching Hospital & Clinics, Inc. v. Smith, 497 So.2d 644 (Fla.1986), this Court declined to hold a wife liable for the husband's hospital bills and disapproved Parkway General Hospit......
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