[211 NJSuper Page 489] This is a complaint by a private, nonprofit hospital, for all hospital charges incurred, against a county and the prisoner it brought to the hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries.
The issue is whether a county can relieve itself of further responsibility for hospital charges for the prisoner it brought to the hospital by having his custodial sentence suspended.
The court holds that once a county undertakes its obligation to provide medical services to its prisoner at an outside medical facility, it cannot escape further responsibility by having its prisoner's sentence suspended.
Defendant Jesse Williams (hereinafter "Williams") was sentenced to a fifteen-day jail sentence by the Newark municipal court on July 13, 1982 and was a county prisoner from then until July 19, 1982.
On July 16, 1982, while an inmate at the Essex County jail annex, Caldwell, Williams set himself on fire. As a result of this incident, county caused Williams, accompanied by county personnel, to be transported to plaintiff Saint Barnabas Medical Center (hereinafter "St. Barnabas"), because of the existence of its burn unit, where he remained a patient until September 2, 1982.
Since St. Barnabas was not the hospital to which county brought inmates on a routine basis, there existed no express agreement between St. Barnabas and county concerning the payment for medical services rendered to any inmates. However, the admission/discharge record noted:
Patient from Essex Cty. Jail Caldwell, N.J. Phone 226-7777 Ext. 213 For Information about Patient.
On July 19, 1982, Elizabeth Neff, the supervisor of accounts in the business office of the jail annex, received a call from Ray Grimm of St. Barnabas seeking to confirm that Williams was a county inmate and that the hospital bill should be sent to the jail annex. While Neff initially confirmed this advice, she called back later that day to indicate that the custodial sentence of Williams had been suspended and that the jail would pay the medical charges incurred only through July 19, 1982, the date his sentence was suspended.
Neff confirmed this oral advice by letter to Grimm dated July 23, 1982:
As per our conversation earlier this week, I am enclosing a copy of the court order suspending the custodial sentence of Jessie Williams. As of July 19, 1982, we are no longer responsible for him. We will, however, pay for services incurred from Friday, July 16th until Monday, July 19th.
Grimm responded by letter dated August 10, 1982:
I received your letter, dated July 23, 1982, enclosing a copy of the court order suspending the custodial sentence of Jessie Williams.
Please be advised that the Medical Center considers Essex County Jail responsible for the total cost of the care for Mr. Williams, since he was brought in under your custody and the Medical Center was never made aware of any suspension or probable suspension by the county until after admission.
Thereafter, Williams remained as a patient through September 2, 1982, incurring charges totaling $53,725.59.
On September 22, 1982, St. Barnabas sent a bill for these services to both Williams and county. Neither has made any payments against this bill. County acknowledges, however, its liability to pay for services rendered through July 19, 1982, but has not done so because it never received a "shortened bill." There is no private insurance available to satisfy this bill.
St. Barnabas brought this law suit against Williams and Peter Shapiro, County Executive of Essex County, Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Essex and Thomas J. D'Alessio, Sheriff of Essex County.
At the hearing, plaintiff was permitted by consent to amend the complaint to delete all public officials and substitute for them the County of Essex (hereinafter "county").
County has moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against county and all its officials. St. Barnabas has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment against county for the full amount of its bill.
The complaint was never served on Williams, despite the fact that Williams has a law suit for damages pending against county in Monmouth County, obviously with the wrong venue. R. 4:3-2. Therefore, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice against him.
The county contends that it is not responsible for hospital charges for a prisoner after his sentence ...