Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, May 6, 2016


Page 1


Malpractice Statute of Limitations Applies to Suit Over Fall From Hospital Bed—High Court


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A lawsuit charging a hospital with negligently contributing to injuries that a patient suffered in a fall in her room is subject to the special statute of limitations for medical injury suits, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.

Reversing Div. Three of this district’s Court of Appeal, the court threw out Catherine Flores’ suit against Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital. Justice Leondra R. Kruger said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvonne T. Sanchez was correct in holding that the suit was untimely.

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 rail had been raised according to her doctor’s orders after an assessment of her condition.

The hospital demurred on grounds 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.”

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. But 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.

Kruger agreed.

“Because plaintiff’s injury resulted from alleged negligence in the use and maintenance of equipment needed to implement the doctor’s order concerning her medical treatment, we conclude that plaintiff’s claim sounds in professional, rather than ordinary, negligence,” the justice wrote.

The issue arose under Code of Civil Procedure §340.5. The parties clashed over whether the alleged misconduct constituted “a negligent act or omission to act by a health care provider in the rendering of professional services,” for purposes of the statute.

Kruger rejected the hospital’s argument that any allegation of violation of a medical licensing requirement, such as the requirement that a medical facility maintain its premises “in good repair,” would render the special statute of limitations applicable. The hospital cited Murillo v. Good Samaritan Hospital (1979) 99 Cal.App.3d 50, in which the court  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.

But while saying the hospital’s proposed rule was too broad, she also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the statute only applies to decisions requiring “a high level of skill.”

She cited the history of the statute, which was enacted as part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act with the intent of bringing down malpractice insurance costs by limiting damages in suits over medical negligence.

“The text and purposes underlying section 340.5…require us to draw a distinction between the professional obligations of hospitals in the rendering of medical care to their patients and the obligations hospitals have, simply by virtue of operating facilities open to the public, to maintain their premises in a manner that preserves the well-being and safety of all users,” she explained.

That distinction, she went on to say, renders Flores’ complaint untimely.

The plaintiff’s briefs, the justice noted, acknowledged that raising the rails was “a medical decision” made by the treating physician.

“Flores’s injuries therefore resulted from [the hospital’s] alleged negligence in the use or maintenance of equipment integrally related to her medical diagnosis and treatment,” Kruger wrote. “When a doctor or other health care professional makes a judgment to order that a hospital bed’s rails be raised in order to accommodate a patient’s physical condition and the patient is injured as a result of the negligent use or maintenance of the rails, the negligence occurs ‘in the rendering of professional services’ and therefore is professional negligence for purposes of section 340.5.”

The case was argued in the Supreme Court by Riverside attorney Edward W. Lloyd for the plaintiff, Peter M. Fonda of Los Angeles for the defendant, and Kenneth R. Pedroza of San Marino’s Cole Pedroza for the California Medical Association, California Dental Association, and California Hospital Association as defendant’s amici.

The case is Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, 16 S.O.S. 2291.


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