SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) – A Sept. 11 California appeals court decision regarding the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) found that a longer statute of limitations to the lawsuit of a woman who alleged a trip-and-fall at a health care provider.
Judge Timothy Reardon - of the First Appellate District, Division Four - authored an opinion that reversed the application of a one-year statute of limitations for professional negligence and remanded the matter for additional consideration.
Plaintiff Claudia Johnson’s appeal, guided by Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hosp. (2016), regarding MICRA and the one-year statute of limitations for professional negligence, was filed against defendant Open Door Community Health Centers, where she was allegedly injured.
The case dates back to 2011, when Johnson went to review prior test results at an Open Door clinic, claiming she tripped on a scale coming out of the consult room. She claimed the scale was not there before she entered the room. Two years after suffering injury, she filed a complaint against Open Door, which denied it for a few reasons.
According to Open Door, Johnson had no case since her injuries were covered under its professional license, making her complaint subject to MICRA 's one-year statute of limitations for professional negligence.
However, arguing her complaint was time-barred left the question of "which statute of limitations to apply: the one-year limitation for injuries caused by medical professional negligence, under MICRA, or the general, two-year statute of limitations for personal injury," according to the ruling.
The Humboldt County Superior Court ruled Johnson failed to meet the one-year statute of limitations for professional negligence and ruled “Open Door’s alleged negligence occurred in the rendering of professional services because Johnson was injured in the course of obtaining medical treatment,” according to the ruling.
Discussing Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5, Reardon discussed how the appeal depended on if 340.5 “governs actions against health care providers for professional negligence, allowing only one year from the earlier of the date a plaintiff discovered or reasonably should have discovered his injury, or three years from the injury, to file suit,” according to the ruling.
The judge wrote in the ruling that though the California Supreme Court “set forth guiding principles for ascertaining whether an injury’s legal cause is 'the rendering of professional services or ordinary negligence,'" the higher court did not give definitive direction.
“Instead, the Supreme Court counsels us to ‘draw a distinction between the professional obligations of hospitals in the rendering of medical care to their patients and the obligations hospitals have, simply by virtue of operating facilities open to the public, to maintain their premises in a manner that preserves the well-being and safety of all users’” the judge wrote in the ruling.
Considering the precedent, the two plaintiffs' stories were not similar enough to rule in favor of Open Door.
“Unlike plaintiff Flores, who was injured during the provision of medical care, through the breach of a duty owed only to patients, Johnson was injured after her care was completed, allegedly as a result of a breach of duties owed generally to all visitors to the Open Door clinic,” the judge wrote in the ruling.
“Although she tripped on medical equipment coincidentally used as part of her earlier medical treatment, she does not allege that Open Door’s failure to properly maintain the scale affected the quality of her medical treatment. She was weighed without incident."