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PROFESSIONAL VERSUS ORDINARY NEGLIGENCE


1. ISSUE

In California, is a slip, trip, fall, or other premises liability injury case at a doctor's office or hospital governed under MICRA as professional negligence or as ordinary negligence?

The answer to this question can have an effect on whether or not expert witness testimony is required, which experts will be utilized if any, the amount of general damages (pain and suffering) recoverable, and the statute of limitations deadline period in which to file a lawsuit. 

The precise boundary between professional negligence (medical malpractice) and premises liability (ordinary negligence) continues to evolve.

2. RULE

"..negligence in maintaining hospital equipment or premises qualifies as professional negligence depends on the nature of the relationship between the equipment or premises in question and the provision of medical care to the plaintiff. 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. But section 340.5 does not extend to negligence in the maintenance of equipment and premises that are merely convenient for, or incidental to, the provision of medical care to a patient. Arguably every part of a hospital's plant would satisfy such a standard, since the medical care of patients is, after all, the central purpose for which any hospital is built. (See Murillo, supra, 99 Cal.App.3d at p. 57.) Even those parts of a hospital dedicated primarily to patient care typically contain numerous items of furniture and equipment — tables, televisions, toilets, and so on — that are provided primarily for the comfort and convenience of patients and visitors, but generally play no part in the patient's medical diagnosis or treatment. Although a defect in such equipment may injure patients as well as visitors or staff, a hospital's general duty to keep such items in good repair generally overlaps with the "obligations that all persons subject to California's laws have" (Lee, supra, 61 Cal.4th at p. 1238), and thus will not give rise to a claim for professional negligence. If, for example, a chair in a waiting room collapses, injuring the person sitting in it, the hospital's duty with respect to that chair is no different from that of any other home or business with chairs in which visitors may sit. Section 340.5's special statute of limitations does not apply to a suit arising out of such an injury." 

Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, Cal: Supreme Court 2016

Flores facts: "Plaintiff in this case is a hospital patient who was injured when one of the rails on her hospital bed collapsed. The rail had been raised according to doctor's orders following a medical assessment of her condition. Plaintiff sued the hospital, claiming that it negligently failed to inspect and maintain the equipment. The question presented is whether her claim is governed by the special limitations period in section 340.5 or instead by the usual two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions. Because plaintiff's injury resulted from alleged negligence in the use and maintenance of equipment needed to implement the doctor's order concerning her medical treatment, we conclude that plaintiff's claim sounds in professional, rather than ordinary, negligence..." 


3.  HYPOTHETICAL FACTUAL EXAMPLES

Doctor's Office:

If the fall by a patient caused by a waiting room chair collapsing due to negligent maintenance occurred in the doctor's office general waiting room, then ordinary negligence related laws would probably apply.

But if a patient slipped and fell due to a wet floor in an examining room, then MICRA (professional negligence) would likely apply.

Hospital:

An admitted hospital patient injured at the hospital would likely fall under MICRA even if they, for example, slipped on a wet floor caused by a janitor.

A non-patient visitor under the same circumstances above would be governed by ordinary premises negligence principles and remedies.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is informational, only. The subject matter and applicable law is evolving and/or constant state of change.  This article is based on California law.  No legal advice is given and no attorney/client or other relationship is established or intended.  The information provided is from general sources, and I cannot represent, guarantee or warrant that the information contained in this website is accurate, current, or is appropriate for the usage of any reader. It is recommend that readers of this information consult with their own counsel prior to relying on any information on this website.

This article was created in 2012 and updated in March of 2013, and then substantially revised in June 2016.

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