A woman was attempting to get up from her hospital bed when the latch on the bedrail failed and the rail collapsed, causing her to fall to the floor.
Just under two years later, she sued the hospital. Her complaint stated causes of action for general negligence and premises liability. The complaint alleged that the hospital had failed to use reasonable care in maintaining its premises, failed to take reasonable precautions to discover and make safe a dangerous condition on the premises, and failed to give the woman a reasonable and adequate warning of a dangerous condition so she could have avoided foreseeable harm. All parties agreed that the woman was aware of her injury at the time it occurred.
The hospital filed a motion to dismiss. The motion argued that the complaint was governed by the statute of limitations for suits alleging professional negligence, that the woman had discovered the injury when she fell out of her hospital bed, and that the complaint was untimely because it was filed more than one year thereafter.
In California, a personal injury action generally must be filed within two years of the date on which the challenged act or omission occurred. A special statute of limitations applies, however, to actions for injury or death against a health care provider based upon such person’s alleged professional negligence. Unlike most other personal injury actions, professional negligence actions against health care providers must be brought within three years after the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury, whichever occurs first.
The woman responded by arguing that her claim did not arise from professional negligence. She acknowledged that a doctor had made a medical decision to order that the rails on her bed be raised, following a medical assessment of her condition. But, she argued, the rendition of professional services ended when the doctor medically assessed her condition and medically determined to raise the sidewalls on her bed. The hospital’s alleged negligent conduct, she argued, was therefore clearly ordinary, and not professional negligence, and was therefore subject to the ordinary two-year limitations period for personal injury actions
The Los Angeles County Superior Court granted the hospital’s motion to dismiss without leave to amend.
The Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, reversed, ordering the trial court to reinstate the complaint. The appellate court held that the hospital’s alleged failure to use reasonable care in maintaining its premises and its alleged failure to take reasonable precautions to make a dangerous condition safe sounded in ordinary negligence because the negligence did not occur in the rendering of professional services.
The Supreme Court of California reversed the appellate court and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the hospital. The court held that the woman’s action was governed by the special limitations period rather than the two-year statute of limitations because her claims sounded in professional, rather than ordinary negligence.
The woman’s claim was governed by the special limitations period rather than the two-year statute of limitations because her claims sounded in professional, rather than ordinary negligence. California’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) defined professional negligence as 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. The negligence the woman alleged involved negligence in the use or maintenance of hospital equipment or premises which occurred in the rendering of professional services. The special statute of limitations for professional negligence actions against health care providers applies only to actions alleging injury suffered as a result of negligence in providing medical care to patients. If the act or omission that led to the plaintiff’s injuries was negligence in the maintenance of equipment that, under the prevailing standard of care, was reasonably required to treat or accommodate a physical or mental condition of the patient, the plaintiff’s claim is one of professional negligence. Negligence in the use or maintenance of hospital equipment or premises that occurs while providing medical care to patients qualifies as professional negligence subject to the special statute of limitations. The woman’s injury resulted from alleged negligence in the use and maintenance of equipment needed to implement the doctor’s order concerning her medical treatment. 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 the statute of limitations.
The Supreme Court of California reversed the appellate court and affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the hospital.
See: Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hosp., 2016 WL 2586110 (Cal., May 5, 2016) (not designated for publication).
See also Medical Law Perspectives, November 2015 Report: Risks in Caring for Patients with Cognitive Impairments: Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia