Stamford Hosp. v. Schwartz

Decision Date21 May 2019
Docket NumberAC 40870
CourtConnecticut Court of Appeals
Parties STAMFORD HOSPITAL v. Chaim SCHWARTZ et al.

Chaim T. Schwartz, self-represented, with whom, on the brief, was Rena E. Gelb, self-represented, the appellants (defendants).

Vimala Ruszkowski, with whom, on the brief, were Eric J. Stockman and Simon I. Allentuch, for the appellee (plaintiff).

Lavine, Prescott and Elgo, Js.

LAVINE, J.

This appeal arises from the defendant parents' refusal to pay for medical care and treatment rendered to their minor child by the plaintiff hospital and the transparently disingenuous machinations they employed in an effort to avoid liability for the debt. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The self-represented defendants, Chaim Schwartz and Rena Gelb,1 appeal from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Stamford Hospital. On appeal, the defendants have raised twenty-three claims challenging the underlying factual findings of the attorney trial referee (referee)2 and the legal conclusions of the trial court. In response, the plaintiff argues that there are only two issues relevant to the appeal: were the defendants indebted to the plaintiff and did they exhibit bad faith in defense of the action. We agree with the plaintiff that the judgment should be affirmed.

The following facts, as found by the referee, the court's legal conclusions, and the procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the defendants' appeal. The plaintiff commenced the present action against the defendants on January 21, 2015. In count one of its two count complaint, the plaintiff alleged that, at the request of the defendants, it provided medical services to their minor child from March 5 to March 6, 2013. The child resided in the defendants' home, and, therefore, pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-37 (b),3 the defendants are liable for the cost of the medical services rendered by the plaintiff. The plaintiff billed the defendants for the services it provided to the child, the reasonable value of which was $ 14,051.99. Despite having made demand on the defendants for payment, a balance of $ 8076.25 remained due and owing, which the defendants have refused to pay.4 In count two, the plaintiff realleged the allegations of count one and that Gelb had signed a patient authorization and agreement (authorization) in which she agreed to pay the plaintiff for the services it rendered to the child plus the costs of collection, including attorney's fees. Despite having made demand on Gelb, she refused to pay the balance of $ 8076.25. In its prayer for relief, the plaintiff sought money damages, reasonable attorney's fees and costs, and statutory prejudgment and postjudgment interest. On May 12, 2015, the defendants filed amended answers denying the material allegations of the complaint, including that the defendants were the child's parents, and each pleaded fourteen identical special defenses, including accord and satisfaction.

The parties tried the case to the referee pursuant to General Statutes § 52-5495 and Practice Book § 23-53.6 The referee issued a memorandum of decision on October 5, 2016, in which he found the following facts. On March 5, 2014, Gelb took the child to the hospital with symptoms of a stomach virus and because the child had had a seizure.7 The child was admitted overnight during which time a series of tests were performed that resulted in costs of which $ 8076.25 remained due. The defendants contend that they are not responsible for the outstanding medical costs on the basis of theories such as accord and satisfaction, lack of notice, lack of need for the services rendered, fair and reasonable value of the services rendered, lack of disclosure of the risks and costs, and the parental liability for the costs of care for a minor child.

The referee found the testimony of the plaintiff's witnesses to be overwhelming with detail regarding the services rendered and their cost, including the medical and insurance review of the costs assessed to the defendants. According to Letitia Borras, a pediatrician, the medical treatment provided was necessary and performed as a standard course of action given the symptoms with which the child presented. The procedures were reviewed with Gelb, who did not object to them. According to Cecelia Rasines, the plaintiff's billing rates are audited and determined by the defendants' insurer and are compared with rates charged for similar treatment by other medical institutions. Nurse auditors audited the defendants' bill by comparing the billing rates and services rendered to the medical records and found the billing statement was accurate.8

The defendants both testified. When counsel for the plaintiff questioned Gelb about her responsibility to pay for the services rendered to her child, Gelb responded that she was not certain that she was the child's biological mother because, although she had given birth, she was not with the child constantly throughout her maternity stay. She, therefore, could not confirm that the child she took home was, in fact, the child to whom she had given birth. Thereafter, the referee questioned Gelb whether her prior testimony regarding her uncertainty as to whether she was the child's biological mother was truthful. The referee found that "Gelb admitted lying on the witness stand and committing perjury, stating that the minor child is in fact her biological child and that she only testified of her uncertainty as a method of assisting both of the defendants against the plaintiff's claims."

As to the child's medical care, Gelb testified that she had not consented to certain procedures before they were performed, but she admitted that the child's pediatrician explained the procedures to her, including the need for a computerized axial tomography scan given the child's seizures. Gelb agreed to the plan and signed an authorization for the medical procedures and agreed to be responsible for costs not paid by insurance. Gelb claimed that she signed the authorization while she was under duress in the plaintiff's emergency department. The plaintiff placed into evidence documents Gelb had signed for the services rendered to the child in the present matter and for the maternity services the plaintiff had provided to her when her children were born. Gelb admitted to having signed each of the documents that evidenced her acceptance of responsibility for the child.9

Following some initial equivocation, Schwartz too admitted that he is the child's biological father and that he had no reason to believe that the child is not his. He recognized his responsibility to pay for the costs associated with the medical services provided to the child. Schwartz personally had applied for the insurance plan that was used to pay the plaintiff. He admitted that he was responsible for paying the insurance deductible and that he was aware of the amount of the deductible.

The defendants did not pay for the medical services rendered to the child because they claimed the services were not necessary. They sent a letter to the plaintiff disputing its bill and to the state Department of Public Health (department). Schwartz received a telephone call from someone at the department advising him that the department had performed a full investigation and " ‘everything was found to be [okay].’ " According to Schwartz, the present case was not the first billing dispute in which he has been involved. In other instances in which he did not pay, the matter remained in collection for a period of time, and then the business "simply [wrote] it off." He did not think that the present matter would result in litigation.

With respect to their special defense of accord and satisfaction, the defendants put three documents into evidence. The documents demonstrate that they had paid $ 112.48 toward the outstanding balance they owed the plaintiff. They sent the plaintiff a correspondence with the payment, stating that the amount was in full satisfaction of the outstanding balance. The defendants argued that by accepting the payment, the plaintiff forgave the remaining balance due under the law of accord and satisfaction.

The referee set out the relevant provisions of General Statutes § 42a-3-311 titled "Accord and satisfaction by use of instrument"10 and analyzed the evidence. The plaintiff's billing statement indicated that payments were to be mailed to P.O. Box 120048, Stamford, and that correspondence regarding financial options was to be mailed to P.O. Box 9317, Stamford. The defendants mailed both their payment and correspondence regarding accord and satisfaction to the payment address at P.O. Box 120048. Rasines explained that payments mailed to P.O. Box 120048 do not go to the plaintiff, but, instead, go to a lock box at a Wells Fargo bank. None of the plaintiff's personnel, therefore, would have seen the payment or the defendants' correspondence. Furthermore, on May 12, 2015, more than ninety days after they had filed their original answers and special defenses, the defendants amended their answers and added special defenses of accord and satisfaction. According to Schwartz, the defendants purposely waited more than ninety days before amending their answers to include the accord and satisfaction special defenses, presumably to avoid giving the plaintiff notice of the defense and an opportunity to conform to § 42a-3-311 (c) (2).11

On the basis of his factual findings, the referee concluded that the plaintiff had established that there was no legitimate basis for the defendants to fail to pay the plaintiff the balance of the moneys owed for the services rendered to the child. The referee recognized that the trier of fact may accept or deny all or part of any testimony from a witness. He found that Gelb's perjured testimony and her subsequent admission of the same, degraded her testimony. The referee was "strained to accept any...

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5 cases
  • Berthiaume v. State
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • September 3, 2019
    ...find support in the facts set out in the memorandum of decision ...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Stamford Hospital v. Schwartz , 190 Conn. App. 63, 97, 209 A.3d 1243 (2019)."The doctrine of res judicata provides that [a] valid, final judgment rendered on the merits by a court of co......
  • Patrowicz v. Peloquin
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • May 21, 2019
    ... ... See Tedesco v. Stamford , 215 Conn. 450, 461, 576 A.2d 1273 (1990) ("[o]nly material variances, those which disclose a ... ...
  • Lawrence v. Gude
    • United States
    • Connecticut Court of Appeals
    • November 22, 2022
    ...interpreting other subdivisions of § 46b-37 (b) vis-à-vis third-party claims for payment. Most recently, in Stamford Hospital v. Schwartz , 190 Conn. App. 63, 78, 209 A.3d 1243, cert. denied, 332 Conn. 911, 209 A.3d 644 (2019), this court held that § 46b-37 (b) (2) allowed a hospital to rec......
  • Stamford Hosp. v. Schwartz
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • June 26, 2019
    ...petition. The petition by the defendants Chaim Schwartz and Rena Gelb for certification to appeal from the Appellate Court, 190 Conn. App. 63, 209 A.3d 1243 (2019), is ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Business Litigation: 2019 in Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 93, 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...989 (2017). [47] 187 Conn. App. at 43. [48] Id. at 47. [49] Id. at 56. [50] Id. at 47, 48. [51] Id. at 54. [52] Id. at 42, fn. 2. [53] 190 Conn. App. 63, 209 A.3d 1243, cert, denied 332 Conn. 911, 209 A.3d 644 (2019). [54] 191 Conn. App. 1, 212 A.3d 767 (2019). [55] Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-55......

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