Court rules for hospital in suit brought by injured woman

By Elizabeth Alt | Jul 25, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) -- The California First District Court of Appeals ruled July 6 that a woman recovering in a hospital after childbirth was unable to sue for an injury because of a letter she sent to the hospital before suing.

According to the court filing on Oct. 29, 2013, Veena Kumari gave birth at ValleyCare Health System. After her caesarean section, the suit sayd, a nurse took her to walk in the hallway, and after the nurse left her,, Kumari fell and injured her shoulder. 

The suit says Kumari sent a letter to Valley on Feb. 19, 2014, alleging she felt dizzy and lightheaded before she fell, should not have been left unattended by the nurse, and her injury caused her pain, loss of work, and bonding with her baby. She asked that Valley pay her $240,000 for damages, and stated she would pursue legal action if the hospital did not send her the amount in 20 days. The hospital reviewed and denied her claims, and Kumari filed suit Jan. 23, 2015.

The trial court granted summary judgment to ValleyCare, concluding the complaint was time barred. The court said the letter the Kumaris sent constituted a notice of intent to sue pursuant to the statute of limitations that a plaintiff gives a health care provider 90 days’ prior notice before commencing an action for professional negligence, and the suit was filed after the one-year statute of limitations.

The Kumaris appealed, contending the letter was not a notice of intent to sue, and alleged because they weren’t aware of the civil code, it should not apply.

The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the trial court ruling, rejecting the Kumari's claim that an individual’s subjective motivation for writing a letter to a health care provider is relevant when determining whether that letter is a notice of intent to sue under civil procedure.

Judge Barbara Jones stated in the opinion, “Whether Kumari intended for her letter to be construed as a notice of intent to sue under Section 364 is irrelevant. The relevant inquiry is whether Kumari’s letter disclosed to ValleyCare that she 'had a claim against it which, if not satisfactorily resolved, would result in [the] filing a lawsuit.'” 

ValleyCare was awarded costs on appeal.

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