Thursday, February 28, 2013
Court of Appeal Rules:
Malpractice Limitations Statute Inapplicable to Hospital Fall Suit
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A lawsuit charging a hospital with negligently contributing to injuries that a patient suffered in a fall in her room is a personal injury suit subject to a two-year statute of limitations, not a medical malpractice case to which a one-year statue would apply, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Three reinstated Catherine Flores’ suit against Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, holding that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvonne T. Sanchez erred in holding that the shorter limitations period applied.
Flores sued the Whittier hospital in March 2011, three days shy of the second anniversary of her fall. She alleged that she “sustained injuries and damages when the bed rail collapsed causing plaintiff to fall to the ground injuring her left knee and elbow.”
The hospital demurred on ground that the suit was one for “professional negligence” and should have been filed within one year. It argued that “the alleged negligence was an integral part of the professional services being rendered to plaintiff.”
Not Medical Assessment
Flores argued that the negligent latching of the siderails was not part of any medical assessment or decision and thus did not fall within the malpractice statute.
In sustaining the demurrer, Sanchez reasoned that the raising and lowering, and latching, of bedrails “is a duty that arises from the professional services being rendered” and that the one-year statute therefore applied.
Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein said the trial judge was in error.
The one-year statute, Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 340.5, Klein noted, was enacted as part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act. MICRA, the presiding justice explained, was designed to bring down malpractice insurance costs by limiting damages in suits over medical negligence.
Since MICRA became law, she went on to say, there has been a conflict in the cases as to whether a patient injury resulting from a dangerous condition of hospital premises is ordinary or professional negligence. But Flores’ case differs from prior California and out-of-state cases involving falls from beds or gurneys, the presiding justice reasoned.
Flores, Klein emphasized, was claiming to have been injured by an equipment failure, not by the negligent performance of professional duties. She cited Sec. 340.5’s definition of “professional negligence” as “a negligent act or omission…by a health care provider in the rendering of professional services.”
The presiding justice acknowledged that in Murillo v. Good Samaritan Hospital (1979) 99 Cal.App.3d 50, the court—which held the one-year statute applicable to a fall from bed by a patient who was unable to lie on her back because of the pain of shingles and alleged that the injury was caused by failure to raise the bedrails—suggested a broader rule, applying the shorter statute whenever “the negligent act occurred in the rendering of services for which the health care provider is licensed.”
Klein said the rule should not be that broad.
“We reject Murillo’s dictum that a negligently maintained, unsafe condition of a hospital’s premises which causes injury to a patient falls within professional negligence,” the jurist wrote. “Injury to a patient from a fallen chandelier, or from a negligently maintained bed rail which collapses, does not amount to professional negligence within the meaning of section 340.5.”
Attorneys on appeal were Edward W. Lloyd for the plaintiff and Kristen J. Heim and Rachael Kogen of Fonda & Fraser for the defendant.
The case is Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, 13 S.O.S. 989.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company