Tuesday, May 28, 2002
C.A. Reinstates Suit Against Hospital Whose Patient ‘Exited’ Via Window
By a MetNews Staff Writer
This district’s Court of Appeal has reinstated a suit by a woman injured after a fall from an open window at a Pomona clinic to which she was admitted for treatment of drug and alcohol dependency.
“We conclude that open, unguarded, second-floor windows, in an in-patient treatment center that dispenses drugs to persons undergoing withdrawal from drugs and alcohol, present a reasonably foreseeable danger of injury,” Justice Walter Croskey wrote for Div. Three Thursday in an unpublished opinion.
Sherrie Stark sued Behavioral Health Services, Inc., the operator of American Recovery Center, for negligence, as well as for conversion of a ring that was lost during her stay.
Stark alleged that while trying to get up from bed, walk, and balance herself, she fell out the open window. She claimed she was unattended and heavily medicated.
BHS moved for summary judgment. It presented evidence that Stark appeared alert and coherent when she entered the facility, and was placed on a standard protocol of medications.
The protocol was altered slightly, BHS said, when she began complaining of extreme anxiety and other symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal. But staff members said they looked in on her periodically, and there were no signs of any unusual difficulty.
“Although the unit is closed (a term not defined), a patient is free to leave at any time; patients, including plaintiff, are free to sign out at any time if they wish to leave the center,” Croskey wrote, citing the defendant’s declarations. “At 12:20 a.m. on March 30, 1999, plaintiff exited her room through the window.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Andria K. Richey granted summary judgment, but Croskey said the negligence claim raised triable issues.
The defendant, Croskey wrote, “did not negate the allegations of the complaint that plaintiff fell from an open and unguarded second floor window very early one morning while admitted to defendant’s center for drug and alcohol detoxification.”
Since the defendant presented evidence that the plaintiff was free to leave in the conventional manner and was not observed acting unusually, the justice wrote, there is a reasonable inference that she did not go out the window intentionally.
The lack of evidence as to when and how often the plaintiff was observed, and as to the qualifications of the observer, constitutes a failure to negate the allegations that the staff “failed to adequately supervise, care for, manage and treat her,” Croskey said.
The appellate panel did, however, sustain the dismissal of the conversion claim.
Stark, Croskey reasoned, failed to rebut the defendant’s claim that it offered to take her ring for safekeeping, but that she declined. Nor did she offer any evidence as to how the ring was actually lost, he said.
The appeal was argued by James D. Norris for the plaintiff and Mark Schreiber for the defendant.
The case is Stark v. BHS-Behavioral Health Services, Inc., B151494.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company