Hospital Liable in Negligence Not Malpractice for Discharge of Dementia Patient Resulting in Financial Exploitation

A woman was admitted to the defendant acute care facility that specialized in the evaluation, treatment, and placement of elderly patients. While at the facility, the woman was diagnosed with mild to moderate dementia as a result of Alzheimer's disease. Her doctor at the defendant facility concluded that, due to her dementia, she needed a guardian to make medical and financial decisions for her.


A week after the patient was admitted, a social worker employed by the defendant met with another woman who claimed she would take care of the patient upon discharge from the defendant facility. The social worker printed out a power of attorney form for the patient to sign in order to give the other woman power over her personal and financial affairs in order to facilitate discharge and obtain services following discharge. Later, the patient was discharged. The other woman allegedly exploited the former patient financially using the power of attorney.


The county legal guardian sued the defendant hospital on the former patient’s behalf arguing that the social worker employed by the defendant failed to exercise due care when he helped her arrange her financial affairs in furtherance of her discharge. The defendant argued that, while it owed the patient a duty of reasonable care in the treatment of her medical conditions, it did not owe the patient a duty to protect her against third-party financial exploitation.


The trial court applied the medical malpractice standard, that the defendant only owed the patient a duty of reasonable care in the treatment of her medical conditions, and granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss.


The Supreme Court of Nevada reversed and remanded. The court reasoned that the plaintiff’s claim was not related to medical diagnosis, judgment, or treatment, and, therefore, sounded in ordinary negligence, not medical malpractice. When a medical facility performs a nonmedical function, general negligence standards apply. The hospital owed the patient a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid foreseeable harm from the provision of nonmedical services.


The defendant’s manner of discharging the patient could lead a reasonable jury to find that her financial injuries were a foreseeable result of the facility's conduct. A facility that specializes in elder care should be particularly aware of concerns related to financial abuse of older, cognitively impaired patients. The mere fact that a corporation provides, in part, healthcare does not shield it from other forms of tort liability when it acts outside of the scope of medicine.


See: DeBoer v. Sr. Bridges of Sparks Fam. Hosp., 128 Nev. Adv. Op. 38 (Nev. August 9, 2012).