Guardian Not Liable for Breach of Contract Over Assisted Living Resident’s Unpaid Bill

A Nebraska appeals court holds that the guardian of an assisted living resident is not personally responsible for the resident’s unpaid bill because she signed the admission agreement as the responsible party, not the resident. Spring Creek Home, LLC v. Shurigar (Neb. Ct. App., No. A-19-584, Sept. 1, 2020).

Rhoda Shurigar was a court-appointed guardian for Timothy Tierney. Mr. Tierney moved into an assisted living facility, and Ms. Shurigar signed the admission agreement as the “responsible party.” The agreement stated that both the responsible party and the resident were to be referred to as “resident.” Mr. Tierney’s benefits were terminated, and his assisted living bill was unpaid. 

The assisted living facility sued Ms. Shurigar for breach of contract to recover the benefits. The trial court found that the contract unambiguously made her liable for nonpayment because she was included in the category of “resident.” Ms. Shurigar appealed. 

The Nebraska Court of Appeals reverses, holding that Ms. Shurigar was the guardian, not the resident, so she could not be held personally liable. The court rules that “when the Agreement is read and construed as a whole document, it is clear that the term 'resident' means [Mr.] Tierney alone” because there are numerous examples “in the Agreement wherein the term resident can only be applied to the actual resident, not the responsible party.” The court notes that there are two instances when the responsible party could be liable for some charges and remands the case for further consideration.  

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