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Catherine Flores v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital

February 27, 2013


APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Yvonne T. Sanchez, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. VC058225)

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


Reversed with directions.

Plaintiff and appellant Catherine Flores (Flores) appeals an order of dismissal following the sustaining without leave to amend of a demurrer interposed by defendant and respondent Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital (Hospital) to Flores's original complaint.

Flores, a patient, sued the Hospital for general negligence and premises liability. Flores pled she injured her left knee and elbow when the bed rail collapsed, causing Flores to fall to the floor. The trial court held the action was time-barred.

For purposes of determining the applicable statute of limitations, the essential issue presented is whether Flores's lawsuit arose out of professional malpractice or ordinary negligence. The trial court ruled the action arose out of the alleged "professional negligence" of a health care provider, so as to be subject to the one-year statute of limitations (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.5) imposed by the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA) (Stats. 1975, 2d Ex. Sess., ch. 1, § 25, pp. 3969-3970, ch. 2, § 1.192, pp. 3991-3992). *fn1

Based on a survey of case law and statutory analysis, we conclude Flores's action sounded in ordinary negligence, so as to be governed by the two-year statute applicable to personal injury actions. (§ 335.1.) Therefore, Flores's lawsuit was filed timely. We reverse the order of dismissal with directions to reinstate the action.


On March 2, 2011, Flores filed suit against the Hospital, pleading causes of action for general negligence and premises liability.*fn2 Flores pled that nearly two years earlier, on March 5, 2009, she "sustained injuries and damages when the bed rail collapsed causing plaintiff to fall to the ground injuring her left knee and elbow."

The Hospital demurred, contending that although Flores labeled her causes of action as "general negligence" and "premises liability," the action sounded in "professional negligence" and therefore was barred by the one-year statute of limitations. (§ 340.5.) The Hospital reasoned, "the alleged negligence was an integral part of the professional services being rendered to plaintiff. Plaintiff was under the care of [the Hospital] and her alleged injuries occurring in the [H]ospital. Any purported claim is for medical negligence."

In her opposition papers, Flores asserted this was a case of ordinary negligence, not professional negligence. Here, "no negligence was committed in assessing the condition of Plaintiff and in failing to raise the siderails. That medical assessment had already been made and a medical decision to raise the siderails had been made. As such, . . . there was no professional negligence. It was only after the rendition of all professional services (i.e., the assessment of Plaintiff's condition and medical decision to employ siderails), and after the siderails had been negligently latched, that those siderails collapsed, injuring Plaintiff."

On May 13, 2011, the matter came on for hearing. The trial court sustained the Hospital's demurrer to the original complaint without leave to amend. The trial court reasoned: "To decide whether an action arises out of the professional negligence of a health care provider, the 'nature and cause of a plaintiff's injury must be examined to determine whether each is directly related to the manner in which professional services were provided.' [Citation.] The Court looks not at the degree of skill involved, but whether such skill is an integral part of the professional service being rendered. [Citations.] [¶] . . . [T]he hospital here has a duty 'to recognize the condition of patients under its care and to take appropriate measures for their safety.' [Citation.] Ensuring that bedrails, to the extent they are needed by a particular patient, are properly raised or lowered and properly latched is a duty that arises from the professional services being rendered. Plaintiff's claim is governed by section 340.5."

The trial court also denied Flores's request for leave to amend, stating she "had not met her burden of establishing an ability to amend the complaint to cure its untimeliness." Flores filed a timely notice of appeal from the order of dismissal.


Flores contends her action is governed by the two-year statute of limitations applicable to personal injury actions, rather than the one-year statute of limitations applicable to medical malpractice actions. We agree.


1. Standard of appellate review.

In determining whether a plaintiff has properly stated a claim for relief, "our standard of review is clear: ' "We treat the demurrer as admitting all material facts properly pleaded, but not contentions, deductions or conclusions of fact or law. [Citation.] We also consider matters which may be judicially noticed." [Citation.] Further, we give the complaint a reasonable interpretation, reading it as a whole and its parts in their context. [Citation.] When a demurrer is sustained, we determine whether the complaint states facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action. [Citation.] And when it is sustained without leave to amend, we decide whether there is a reasonable possibility that the defect can be cured by amendment: if it can be, the trial court has abused its discretion and we reverse; if not, there has been no abuse of discretion and we affirm. [Citations.] The burden of proving such reasonable possibility is squarely on the plaintiff.' [Citations.]" (Zelig v. County of Los Angeles (2002) 27 Cal.4th 1112, 1126.) Our review is de novo. (Ibid.)

2. Overview.

The "impetus for MICRA was the rapidly rising costs of medical malpractice insurance in the 1970's. 'The inability of doctors to obtain such insurance and reasonable rates is endangering the health of the people of this State, and threatens the closing of many hospitals.' (Governor's Proclamation to Leg. (May 16, 1975) Stats. 1975 (Second Ex. Sess. 1975-1976) p. 3947, and quoted in American Bank & Trust Co. v. Community Hospital (1984) 36 Cal.3d 359, 363, fn. 1 [204 Cal.Rptr. 671, 683 P.2d 670, 41 A.L.R.4th 233].) The response was to pass the various statutes that comprise MICRA to limit damages for lawsuits against a health care provider based on professional negligence. (Civ. Code, §§ 3333.1, 3333.2; Code Civ. Proc., § 667; Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6146.)" (Delaney v. Baker (1999) 20 Cal.4th 23, 33-34.)*fn3

Section 340.5, MICRA's limitations provision, states in pertinent part: "In an action for injury or death against a health care provider based upon such person's alleged professional negligence, the time for the commencement of action shall be three years after the date of injury or one year after the plaintiff discovers, or through the use of reasonable ...

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