Premises Liability Claim Barred By Professional Negligence Statute of Limitations

In Catherine Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, the Supreme Court of California 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 section 340.5.

On March 5, 2009, plaintiff Catherine Flores was receiving medical treatment at defendant Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital when she fell out of her hospital bed after the latch on the bedrail––that had been raised in accordance with her physician’s orders––failed. Almost two years later she filed suit against defendant for negligence and premises liability. Defendant filed a demurrer arguing that the claim was barred by section 340.5 because the plaintiff discovered the injury when she fell out of her bed. In opposition, plaintiff argued that the act of raising the sidewalls on her bed was ordinary and not professional negligence, therefore triggering the two year statute of limitations pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 335.1 (personal injury actions). Agreeing with defendant, the trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed finding that defendant failed to use reasonable care in maintaining its premises.

The Supreme Court of California addressed the issue of whether negligence in the use or maintenance of hospital equipment or premises qualifies as professional negligence subject to section 340.5. In determining this issue, the Court analyzed two seminal and conflicting cases, Gopaul v. Herrick Memorial Hospital (1974) 38 Cal.App.3d 1002, 1005 and Murillo v. Good Samaritan Hospital (1979) 99 Cal.App.3d 50. In Gopaul, the court held that professional negligence only occurs when “the negligence occurred within the scope of the ‘skill, prudence, and diligence commonly exercised by practitioners of the profession.” In contrast, Murillo adopted rule that the determination of professional negligence is determined by “whether the negligent act occurred in the rendering of services for which the health care provider is licensed.”

Seeking to harmonize these different approaches, the Court reasoned the distinction between ordinary and professional negligence depends on the nature of the relationship between the equipment/ premises and the provision of medical care to plaintiff. It specifically held that:

“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″

In the case at bar, the Court concluded that because the physician ordered that the handrails be raised following a medical assessment of plaintiff’s condition, the negligence occurred in the rendering of professional services. Thus, the applicable statute of limitations was 340.5 and the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

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May 5, 2016