California Appellate Court Says Fall On Wet Floor Not Medical Malpractice

162017_132140396847214_292624_nIn a case decided on April 23, 2015, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three (“Appellate Court”) determined that a hospital patient’s claim of negligence involving her slip and fall on a recently mopped floor that lacked warning signs was a claim of ordinary negligence and not a medical malpractice claim. Therefore, the one-year statute of limitations for California medical malpractice claims did not apply and the two-year statute of limitations for ordinary negligence claims applied.

The Appellate Court stated that the question on appeal was whether a hospital’s purported conduct in mopping a floor and failing to provide warning signs constitutes “professional negligence” within the meaning of section 340.5 of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA), rather than ordinary negligence subject to the two-year limitations period under section 335.1.

The Underlying Facts

The plaintiff was admitted to the defendant hospital on June 13, 2010, complaining of tightness in her chest with shortness of breath. She was placed in a hospital room that had a private bathroom.

On June 15, 2010, the plaintiff used the bathroom to freshen up and to change her clothing. As she was walking back to her bed, she slipped and fell on the wet floor that appeared to her as having been recently mopped, thereby injuring herself. The plaintiff claimed that there were no warning cones placed on the wet floor.

The plaintiff filed her complaint on June 11, 2012, seeking compensatory damages for her personal injury based on a cause of action for premises liability (ordinary negligence). The defendant hospital moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s action was time-barred by section 340.5. The trial court granted the motion, ruling that the action was one “for professional negligence” because the negligence was “committed in the act of rendering services for which the hospital is licensed,” which was namely “to use reasonable care and diligence in safeguarding a patient committed to its charge. So whether [p]laintiff fell because she was not supervised or assisted on her trip to the restroom, or because a ‘cleaning lady’ mopped her room while she was in the restroom is irrelevant for this analysis: in either event, the claim concerns [d]efendant’s duties to take appropriate measures for patient safety, and concerns rendering of services for which [d]efendant is licensed … because the claim is one brought by a patient against a hospital for an alleged injury sustained in the course of the hospital’s care for her it is a claim for professional negligence.”

In overturning the trial court’s granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant hospital, the Appellate Court stated that under MICRA, “‘Professional negligence’ means 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.” (§ 340.5, subd. (2))

The Appellate Court stated that the statutory definition of professional negligence in section 340.5 requires it to determine “whether the negligence occurs in the rendering of professional services” and not the level of skill required for each individual task. For purposes of section 340.5, subdivision (2), “professional negligence” is defined as “a negligent act or omission to act by a health care provider in the rendering of professional services.” Because mopping the floor and putting a warning sign up did not occur during the rendering of such services, the Appellate Court held that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged facts to support an ordinary negligence claim so as to bring her action within the two-year limitations period of section 335.1.

Source Pouzbaris v. Prime Healthcare Services-Anaheim, LLP, G048891.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 at 5:56 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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