Pouzbaris v. Prime Healthcare Services: MICRA doesn’t restrict slip-and-fall claim against hospital
If you slip and fall in a hospital, does MICRA apply?
The short answer is that it depends, but, at least for now, probably not.
California carefully regulates lawsuits brought against healthcare providers for professional negligence in the provision of medical services under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975, commonly known as MICRA. Lawsuits brought under the umbrella of MICRA are subject to a number of restrictions including the amount of non-economic damages that can be recovered ($250,000) and the amount of time a potential plaintiff has to file his or her lawsuit.
Previously, courts have addressed the satellite of claims that can accompany a lawsuit for professional negligence, such as elder abuse or intentional torts, to work to resolve the question of whether the restrictions of MICRA extend to these related, but separate claims. (See e.g. Lisa M. v. Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital (1995) 12 Cal.4th 291; see also Covenant Care v. Superior Court (2004) 32 Cal.4th 771; Delaney v. Baker (1999) 20 Cal.4th 23.)
More recently the courts have taken a particular interest in the question raised in cases such as Pouzbaris v. Prime Healthcare Services (2015 Cal. App. LEXIS 339) and in Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, which is currently pending before the California Supreme Court: does MICRA apply to claims based on accidents or incidents (e.g. in Pouzbaris, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a freshly mopped floor and in Flores, the plaintiff’s bed rail malfunctioned and she fell out) that happen to take place in a hospital but do not appear to have any direct relation to the provision of medical services.
In Pouzbaris, this question was of particular interest because if MICRA applied, then the plaintiff’s claims were brought too late, whereas if it was treated as a regular slip-and-fall that just so happened to be in a hospital, then plaintiff’s claims were timely. The Court of Appeals ultimately held that the baseline question to ask in cases such as these is “whether the negligence occurs in the rendering of professional services.”
Under this analysis, the Court of Appeals found that mopping the floor and putting a warning sign up did not occur during the rendering of professional medical services and so the plaintiff’s slip-and-fall claim was not covered by MICRA. In so finding, the Court of Appeals rejected the notion that the mere presence of an unsafe condition at a hospital was enough to trigger MICRA when the condition injured a patient. Of course, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Flores could render this analysis moot and completely take the law in a different direction; however, as of now, medical providers should be aware that not every accident in a hospital will trigger the protections of MICRA.
TLDR: Unless your doctor somehow causes you to slip and fall in the middle of treating you, chances are that ordinary negligence rules, not MICRA, will apply to a mundane injury that just so happens to take place at a medical facility.
Asma Pouzbaris v. Prime Healthcare Services – Anaheim, LLP
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