Magana Cathcart & McCarthy

Court Holds Doctors Can Be Liable For Their Recklessness Under California Elder Abuse Act

California Elder Abuse Act

The California Court of Appeals issued a ruling on May 24th exposing a group of doctors to liability for reckless neglect under California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, even though their patient was not in a custodial care facility at the time. This decision marks a big step forward for the ability of injured elders and adults to more fully recover compensation from doctors whose recklessness has caused serious personal injury or wrongful death.

In Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, Inc., the California 2nd District Court of Appeal held a group of doctors may be liable for their reckless negligence in the death of an elderly woman whom they saw for over two years but never adequately treated for vascular disease, despite the fact that they diagnosed the disease and could monitor its worsening progression.

The defendants had argued that the Elder Abuse Act only applies to neglect or abuse of individuals while in custodial care, such as in a hospital or nursing home. They wanted the case to be treated like an ordinary professional negligence (medical malpractice) case, in which case the plaintiff’s recovery for pain and suffering and other “noneconomic” damages would be subject to the damages cap put in place by the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) in 1975 and never once adjusted for inflation.

The court held that even though nursing homes may have been the primary target of the Elder Abuse Act, it was also meant to apply to doctors and other health care providers, regardless of whether they are providing treatment in a nursing home or other custodial care facility. The court found that the prior important cases of Delaney v. Baker and Covenant Care v. Superior Court, although cited by the defendant, actually helped prove the plaintiff’s case rather than the defendant’s. Moreover, MICRA does not apply to a claim under the Elder Abuse Act, leaving the elder or dependent adult plaintiff able to recover the full range of damages, including attorney’s fees, punitive damages, and whatever amount for pain and suffering the jury deems is justified.

Experienced Attorneys for Difficult Medical Malpractice Cases

Review of the decision has been sought to the California Supreme Court. Clay Robbins III, Senior Trial Counsel at Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy who argued successfully for the plaintiffs on appeal, expresses gratitude to the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), an advocate group for the elderly and disabled adult populations in California. CANHR filed an amicus brief with the court which ably supported the positions of the plaintiffs in the case.

Although the doctors can now be held liable under the Elder Abuse Act, recovering under the Act is no simple matter. The Elder Abuse Act puts a higher burden of proof on the plaintiffs who have to prove more than ordinary negligence in order to recover. If you or a family member has suffered elder abuse, talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer about how best to stop and prevent abuse. In Los Angeles, contact Magaña, Cathcart & McCarthy for assistance.

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