Monday, April 27, 2015
Janitorial Neglect Is Not ‘Professional Negligence’ C.A. Rules
Panel Says Action by Woman Who Slipped on Wet Floor Is Not Subject to Limitations Period Set Forth in MICRA Simply Because Mishap Occurred in a Hospital
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal has reversed a judgment in favor of a hospital that invoked the one-year statute of limitation applicable to medical malpractice actions in a case where a woman sued for injuries she sustained, while a patient, upon slipping and falling upon a freshly mopped floor on which a warning sign had not been placed.
Summary judgment had been granted by Orange Superior Court Judge Luis A. Rodriguez to Prime Healthcare Services-Anaheim LLP, which operates West Anaheim Medical Center, based on the limitations period in the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA).
Reversal came late Thursday in an opinion by acting Presiding Justice William F. Rylaarsdam of Fourth District’s Div. Three. The action is governed by the two-year time-bar that pertains, under Code of Civil Procedure §335.1, to ordinary negligence suits, rather than the shortened period prescribed by MICRA, in §340.5 of that code, he said.
The jurist reviewed prior conflicting decisions on the issue and said that the issue is presently before the California Supreme Court.
Rylaarsdam added emphasis in quoting this portion of §340.5:
“‘Professional negligence’ means a negligent act or omission to act by a health care provider in the rendering of professional services, which act or omission is the proximate cause of a personal injury or wrongful death, provided that such services are within the scope of services for which the provider is licensed and which are not within any restriction imposed by the licensing agency or licensed hospital.”
“Plaintiff’s complaint, alleging she was injured when she slipped and fell on a recently mopped floor, did not occur in the rendering of professional services but rather sounds in ordinary negligence. Therefore, the action is governed by the two-year statute of limitations (§ 335.1), making the lawsuit timely.
Rodriguez, in granting summary judgment, relied on the Court of Appeal’s opinion in Murillo v. Good Samaritan Hospital (1979) 99 Cal.App.3d 50. There, the Fourth District’s Div. Two reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of a hospital in a case where a patient fell from a bed when the guard rails were down, but observed:
“[T]he question whether it was negligent to leave the bedrails down during the night while plaintiff was asleep is a question involving hospital’s duties to recognize the condition of patients under its care and to take appropriate measures for their safety. Thus, the question is squarely one of professional negligence [citation] and section 340.5 governs the running of the statute of limitations.”
The plaintiff cited contrary cases such as Gopaul v. Herrick Memorial Hosp. (1974) 38 Cal.App.3d 1002, decided by the First District before the enactment of MICRA. There, it was observed:
“No reasonable person would suggest that ‘professional malpractice’ was the cause of injury to a patient from a collapsing chair in a doctor’s office, or to a client from his attorney’s negligent driving en route to the court house, or to a hospital patient from a chandelier falling onto his bed. Such injuries would, no doubt, have proximately resulted from ‘ordinary negligence,’ but they would not be brought about from ‘professional malpractice.’ ”
“We disagree with Murillo’s dictum that a negligently maintained, unsafe condition of a hospital’s premises which causes injury to a patient qualifies as professional negligence. Rather, injury to a patient from a falling chandelier, or a recently mopped floor, does not fall within the meaning of professional negligence as defined in section 340.5.”
The case is Pouzbaris v. Prime Healthcare Services-Anaheim, LLP, 15 SOS 2020.
Second District Opinion
The case pending before the California Supreme Court is Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital. Although Rylaarsdam said it involves a “similar issue,” it was decided in 2013 by this district’s Div. Three on a different basis.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvonne T. Sanchez had ruled that an action by a woman who fell out of bed when a rail collapsed by time-barred, under MICRA. Reversal came in an opinion by then-Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein.
She said that a “discrete issue” was raised in the case because the injury did not stem from hospital negligence but from “equipment failure,” and that the two-year statute of limitation for ordinary negligence therefore applied.
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