California Supreme Court Limits Reach of Elder Abuse Act

In a recent decision, the California Supreme Court has limited who can be named a defendant in claims citing damages for elder neglect. In Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, the court further defined the meaning of negligence in the Elder Abuse Act—a decision that is likely to protect many medical professionals and managed care organizations from being held liable in future lawsuits.

Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group

In Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, surviving daughters of the deceased filed to hold three doctors responsible for the death of their mother. In their suit, they claimed that these doctors, who saw their mother over the course of several years, recognized that their mother had a vascular issue in her legs, but failed to ever refer her to a vascular specialist. This vascular issue eventually led to a decline in the mother's health and her death.

Under California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (or the "Elder Abuse Act"), plaintiffs are able to seek compensation from those trusted with the care of the elderly who are found negligent in their duties. Unlike other kinds of civil suits, the Elder Abuse Act also allows plaintiffs to collect additional damages, such as legal costs, pain and suffering, and even punitive damages. The claim in Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group sought these kinds of damages provided by this law.

"Having the Care or Custody"

The California Supreme Court, however, ruled against the assertion that there was any negligence demonstrated by the three doctors named in the suit. Instead, they found that the broad definition of "negligence" in the Elder Abuse Act—which states that to be found negligent, a defendant must have "the care or custody" of the elder—implies that the defendant must have physical custody over the elder and be responsible for multiple, key decisions related to their well-being.

In the slip opinion, the court writes "the Act does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs, with the elder patient. It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult’s relationship with the defendant—not the defendant’s professional standing—that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect." In simpler terms: because the doctors in question only occasionally saw the elder for medical appointments and were not involved in the day-to-day care of the elder, they cannot be held liable under the Elder Care Act.

Ultimately, this is unfortunate news for deserving patients and families who are looking for justice when neglect occurs to their loved one. It's these types of court decisions that make having a proven and incisive Los Angeles elder abuse attorney all the more important when looking to file one of these claims.

If you believe that your elderly loved one has been hurt due to the negligent or abusive actions of their caretaker, then we invite you to contact us at Norman Taylor & Associates today. Our experienced legal team knows what it takes to hold the responsible accountable in these cases and can ensure that any wrongdoing will be emphatically be put forth before the law on your behalf.

Start exploring your legal options with our team today. Contact our offices to request a free consultation.

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