A man filed a medical malpractice action against the hospital. The complaint alleged that the man was mishandled by an occupational therapist during a postoperative stay at the hospital. The hospital’s negligence caused spinal shock and bleeding, which in turn caused the man’s quadriplegia.
The jury returned a special verdict finding that the hospital was negligent in its treatment of the man, but that this negligence was not a substantial factor causing the man’s quadriplegia.
Shortly thereafter, the man died. An autopsy revealed evidence that called into question the jury’s causation determination. Specifically, the autopsy findings showed that the mass on the man’s spine, which caused the man’s deterioration and quadriplegia, was not a tumor, as the hospital had argued at trial, but a traumatic neuroma consistent with the injury the man suffered during his postoperative stay at the hospital. The man’s estate moved for a new trial on the basis of this evidence. In submitting the expert affidavits explaining the significance of this evidence, the estate did not timely pay the necessary filing fee. The hospital did not object to the timeliness of the affidavits.
The San Diego County Superior Court granted the estate’s motion for new trial on the grounds that there was a probability that the autopsy findings would render a different result in a new trial and that the evidence could not, with reasonable diligence, have been discovered and produced at trial. The trial court order quoted one of the estate’s expert’s affidavits in support of this conclusion.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division One, affirmed the trial court’s grant of the estate’s motion for a new trial. The appellate court held that the trial court did not lack fundamental jurisdiction and that the hospital forfeited its challenge to the timeliness of the affidavits by failing to object in the trial court.
The Supreme Court of California affirmed. The court held that California Code of Civil Procedure section 659a did not deprive the trial court of fundamental jurisdiction to consider affidavits submitted after the 30-day deadline set forth in the statute and the hospital may not raise the timeliness of the affidavits for the first time on appeal.
California Code of Civil Procedure section 659a did not deprive the trial court of fundamental jurisdiction to consider affidavits submitted after the 30-day deadline set forth in the statute. Section 659a established deadlines for submission of the affidavits required for a motion for a new trial that relies on newly discovered evidence. Specifically, movants must submit supporting affidavits within 10 days of filing the notice of intent to move for a new trial. A court may retroactively extend the deadline for filing by 20 days, even if the party did not seek an extension in advance. Accordingly, with the trial court’s approval, a movant has an aggregate of 30 days to submit supporting affidavits after filing the notice of intent to move for a new trial. The trial court had power to grant a new trial on the basis of the estate’s affidavit filed after the 30 day aggregate period had expired a movement because such a new trial order was not void for lack of jurisdiction. The court reasoned that a party’s failure to comply with a mandatory requirement does not necessarily mean a court loses fundamental jurisdiction resulting in an entire absence of power to hear or determine the case, an absence of authority over the subject matter or the parties. Noncompliance with a mandatory rule can result in invalidation of the action so long as the noncompliance is properly raised. The text of section 659a does not reveal a clear legislative intent to deprive courts of the power to consider untimely filed affidavits. Section 659a contains no consequence or penalty for noncompliance with the affidavit filing deadlines. The deadlines specified in section 659a do not combine with other statutory time frames to form an intricately balanced or interconnected timing scheme. Noncompliance, without objection by any party, does not deprive the court of jurisdiction to consider the affidavits.
The hospital may not raise the timeliness of the affidavits for the first time on appeal. The hospital could have objected to the allegedly untimely affidavits at an ex parte hearing. The hospital had been timely and personally served with the affidavits two days before the ex parte hearing and, thus, could not have been prejudiced by their inclusion at the ex parte hearing. The hospital could have objected to the allegedly untimely affidavits in the opposition it filed six days after the ex parte hearing. The hospital was or should have been aware of the issue by the time it filed its opposition to the estate’s motion for new trial. But the hospital did not register any such objection on the record. The hospital, having failed to object to the affidavits’ timeliness in the trial court, may not challenge the trial court’s reliance on those affidavits for the first time on appeal.
The Supreme Court of California affirmed the trial court’s grant of the estate’s motion for a new trial.
See: Kabran v. Sharp Memorial Hospital, 2017 WL 218033 (Cal., January 19, 2017) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives, June 2016 Report: How Risky is Going to the Hospital? The Dangers and Liabilities of Healthcare-Associated Infection
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See also Medical Law Perspectives, September 2013 Report: Physical Therapy: Rehabilitation Services and Liability Risks
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