Important Update for Healthcare Professionals

CA Supreme Court clarifies Professional v. Ordinary Negligence in a Hospital Setting

(C.C.P. § 340.5)

On May 5th, 2016, the Supreme Court of California issued a minor victory for hospitals and other healthcare clinics who have found themselves subject to allegations of “general negligence” in an action that involves any medical judgment. In Catherine Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, the Court held that a claim for negligence in the maintenance of equipment and care needed to implement the doctor’s order concerning her medical treatment sounded in professional negligence and therefore was subject to the statute of limitations period set forth in Code of Civil Procedure (CCP) section 340.5 which governs professional negligence claims.

Plaintiff Catherine Flores was a patient at Defendant Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital.  Her treating physician ordered the bed-rails raised after an assessment of her condition.  She subsequently fell out of bed while trying to get up.  In her lawsuit filed almost two years later, Plaintiff alleged that the latch on the raised bed rail failed under theories of negligence and premises liability.  Defendant argued the claim was barred by one year statute of limitations for professional negligence in C.C.P. section 340.5.  The trial court agreed, but the Court of Appeal reached a different conclusion finding that the applicable standard was “ordinary” negligence, and applied a two year statute of limitations.

The Supreme Court of California found that the application of professional negligence depends on the nature of the relationship between the equipment/ premises and the provision of medical care: “A hospital’s negligent failure to maintain equipment that is necessary or otherwise integrally related to the medical treatment and diagnosis of the patient implicates a duty that the hospital owes to a patient by virtue of being a health care provider. Thus, 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 under section 340.5.”  Likening the claim to preventing a patient from becoming separated from an oxygen ventilator, for example, the Court concluded that because the physician ordered that the bed-rails be raised following a medical assessment of plaintiff’s condition, the negligence occurred in the rendering of professional services.  Thus, the one-year statute of limitations under C.C.P. section 340.5 applied.  The Supreme Court therefore reversed, which effectively dismissed the action as untimely.

Article authored by Adriana Cervantes, [email protected], May 2016
Supervising Attorney, Jon Corr