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Roberts v. County of Los Angeles

June 29, 2009

PATRICIA ANN ROBERTS, AN INCOMPETENT PERSON, ETC., PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, John P. Farrell, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. PC040833).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aldrich, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

INTRODUCTION

We are asked here to determine whether plaintiff‟s suit alleging the negligence of a public-entity health-care provider must comply with the statutes of limitations in both the Government Claims Act (Gov. Code, § 945.6) involving actions against public entities, and the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.5) governing medical negligence suits. Patricia Ann Roberts, by her coconservators Eli Starks, Jr. and Lula Lee Starks (plaintiff), met the claim filing deadline contained in Government Code section 945.6 that is the prerequisite to bringing an action against a public entity. However, because of a Government Claims Act provision tolling the time by which she must file a claim with the public entity, her complaint against defendant, the County of Los Angeles (the County), was brought beyond the three-year period of limitations in MICRA‟s Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5. The trial court granted the motion of the County for summary judgment and plaintiff appeals from the judgment entered thereafter.

We hold that the statute of limitations in Government Code section 945.6 can be harmonized with the three-year period in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5 when the latter statute is viewed as establishing the outside date by which actions against health care providers, including public entities, must be brought. As a result of our holding, we reject plaintiff‟s contention that the deadline in Government Code section 945.6 supplants the limitations period in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.5. Accordingly, the judgment is affirmed.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed: On February 18, 2003, plaintiff, then 49 years old, suffered severe brain damage while receiving care and treatment at the County‟s Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. From February 18, 2003, until the present day, plaintiff has remained hospitalized, brain damaged, and incapacitated. On the day of the injury, physicians at the hospital informed plaintiff‟s family of the events.

Sometime before mid-2003, Lula Stark filed a complaint with the Department of Health Services Licensing & Certification Program charging negligence in the care of plaintiff at the Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.

On December 8, 2006, plaintiff‟s parents received appointment as co-conservators of the person of plaintiff.

On either February 23 or February 28, 2007, plaintiff filed an application for leave to present a late claim under Government Code section 911.4. Attached to the application was the proposed claim.

On April 3, 2007, the County denied plaintiff‟s application and sent notice denying her proposed claim as untimely. (Gov. Code, § 911.3, subd. (a).)

On April 17, 2007, plaintiff filed a petition in the trial court seeking relief from the Government Claims Act requirements pursuant to Government Code section 946.6.

On May 16, 2007, the parties stipulated that the County had rescinded its denial of plaintiff‟s application for leave to file a late claim. The parties also stipulated that plaintiff‟s "claim shall be deemed to have been presented to the County . . . as of May 10, 2007."

On June 11, 2007, more than four years after the incident but within six months of the County‟s stipulation, plaintiff, through her co-conservators, brought her complaint in the trial court alleging a single cause of action for negligence. The County moved for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff‟s complaint was filed more than three years after the cause of action accrued with the result, ...


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