In its published opinion filed on November 2, 2021, the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Six (“California Appellate Court”) held: “Here, the nursing staff’s judgment that appellant could use the restroom without their assistance was a judgment made in the course of providing medical care to her. Their duty to, for example, protect her from falling while walking in the emergency room was a duty owed to a patient, not a member of the general public. For this reason, we conclude the claim is one for professional negligence to which section 340.5 applies. Because the complaint alleges a cause of action for professional medical negligence, the one-year statute of limitations provided in section 340.5 applies and is time-barred.”
The Underlying Facts
On the evening of May 26, 2017, the plaintiff, in distress over the death of a pet, swallowed 60 Naproxen tablets. She vomited twice and had abdominal cramps. The plaintiff, accompanied by her husband, presented at the defendant hospital emergency department at 7:23 a.m. on May 27. An emergency room physician took her history and noted that the plaintiff was still experiencing nausea and abdominal pain and had a resting tremor. The plaintiff was alert, oriented, and had no acute distress. The physician noted no motor deficits or sensory deficits. His impression was that the plaintiff had suffered an acute kidney injury.
Nearly two hours later, the nurse noted that the plaintiff walked to the toilet with assistance from her husband. He further noted that the plaintiff walked back to her bed without assistance. On the way back, the plaintiff fell, causing abrasions to her nose and forehead and severely injuring her knee. About 30 minutes after the fall, the plaintiff was seen by an internal medicine physician. The plaintiff told the physician that, on the way back from the restroom, her legs just “gave out” and she fell to the floor.
In California, a personal injury action generally must be filed within two years of the date on which the negligent act or omission occurred. (§ 335.1.) When the cause of action is for “injury or death against a health care provider based upon such person’s alleged professional negligence, the time for the commencement of action shall be three years after the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury, whichever occurs first.” (§ 340.5.)
The trial court agreed with the defendant hospital’s contention that the plaintiff’s complaint was time barred under section 340.5 because the nursing staff’s decision to not assist the plaintiff in walking to the restroom was “integrally related” to her medical care and treatment. The California Appellate Court also agreed: “It also remarked that appellant provided no evidence in support of the cause of action for premises liability and did not dispute respondent’s statement that her fall was unrelated to the condition of the floor. It also noted that there was no factual dispute concerning the general negligence cause of action because appellant presented no evidence refuting the opinion of respondent’s expert witness that the nursing care provided to appellant complied with the standard of care.”
The California Appellate Court stated: “The question then, is whether her complaint is barred by the one-year statute of limitations in section 340.5 because it is a cause of action for “professional negligence” within the meaning of the statute. Appellant contends it is not, because helping someone walk to and from the toilet is not a professional medical service. We disagree … Here, the undisputed facts establish appellant was a patient in the emergency room being monitored and awaiting treatment when she fell while walking back to her room after using the toilet … Appellant’s allegation that she fell because the nurse did not assist her in using the toilet is an allegation that the nurse breached his professional duties. For this reason, we conclude the complaint alleges a cause of action for professional medical negligence, rather than general negligence or premises liability. Section 340.5 provides the applicable statute of limitations. Because appellant’s complaint was filed more than one year after her injury, it is time barred.”
Source Mitchell v. Los Robles Regional Medical Center, 2d Civil No. B309123.
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