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Kumari v. The Hospital Committee for Livermore-Pleasanton Areas

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

July 6, 2017

VEENA KUMARI et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
THE HOSPITAL COMMITTEE FOR THE LIVERMORE-PLEASANTON AREAS, Defendant and Respondent.

         Alameda County Superior Court No. RG15755853. Hon. Delbert C. Gee

          Law offices of John E. Hill and John E. Hill for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

          Law offices of Bjork Lawrence, Robert K. Lawrence, Robyn D. Roberts for Defendant and Respondent.

          Jones, P. J.

         On October 29, 2013, while she was hospitalized after giving birth, Veena Kumari fell and broke her right shoulder. On February 19, 2014, Kumari sent ValleyCare Health System (ValleyCare) a detailed letter describing her injury and the basis for her “medical negligence” claim. Kumari requested $240, 000 and advised ValleyCare she would “move to the court” if she did not receive a check within 20 days. ValleyCare denied Kumari's claim.

         On January 23, 2015-more than a year after her injury-Kumari and her husband (collectively, plaintiffs) sued ValleyCare for medical negligence and loss of consortium.[1] The trial court granted ValleyCare's summary judgment motion, concluding Kumari's letter constituted a notice of intent to sue pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 364[2] which did not extend the statute of limitations. The court concluded the complaint was time-barred and entered judgment for ValleyCare.

         Plaintiffs appeal, contending Kumari's letter was not a notice of intent to sue within the meaning of section 364. We disagree and affirm. In doing so, we reject plaintiffs' claim that an author'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 section 364.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On October 28, 2013, Kumari gave birth via Cesarean section at a ValleyCare hospital in Pleasanton. The next day, Kumari fell as she was walking along a hospital corridor, fracturing her right shoulder.

         Kumari's Letter and ValleyCare's Response

         In February 2014, Kumari sent ValleyCare a letter “regarding the personal injury accident that occurred” on October 29, 2013, the day after she delivered her baby. The letter stated the “accident was a result of medical negligence” by a nurse assigned to Kumari. The letter described the “elaborate sequence of events, ” specifically that a “nurse took [Kumari] out for the first walk in the corridors of the hospital, ” and left her “unattended walking.” Kumari felt “dizzy and collapsed on the floor; this caused my right shoulder fracture (diagnosed by MRI in the hospital).... I strongly feel that the nurse should not have left me unattended, especially when my hemoglobin level was considerably low.”

         Kumari's letter explained that the pain caused by the accident prevented her from working, bonding with her baby, and caring for herself. Kumari described the medical treatment she was receiving from an orthopedist and physiotherapist; she sought “compensation of 140, 000 dollars non-economic damages of $100, 000 the medical expenses” and payment for physical therapy. The letter concluded: “I would therefore request you to send me a check of 240, 000 dollars within 20 days of receipt of this letter. I personally do not wish to go through the legal route, but if this doesn't work I will move to the court after 20 days. I would also request you to keep all the relevant documents, cctv footage or preserve anything relevant as proof of the accident.”

         In March 2014, ValleyCare's insurer acknowledged receiving the letter, and asked Kumari to complete medical authorization forms so it could “review the claim.” Several weeks later, the insurer reiterated its request for Kumari to complete authorizations from the treatment providers identified in Kumari's letter. Kumari completed the authorizations. In August 2014, the insurer denied Kumari's claim, concluding “a review of the matter found that the nurse... did not breach the standard of care prior to your fall. Therefore, we will not make any offer of settlement on behalf of ValleyCare.”

         Plaintiffs' Counsel's Letter and the Litigation

         Plaintiffs hired a lawyer. On October 27, 2014, their attorney sent ValleyCare a letter “pursuant to... section 364” stating the nurse's “negligent actions” caused Kumari's injuries and that Kumari's husband had a loss of consortium claim. The letter stated “after the expiration of 90 days from the date of this notice, [plaintiffs] intend to file an action.” ...


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