Negligently performing an MRI scan does not substantiate an elder abuse claim.
Daniel Kruthanooch, an elderly man, presented to Glendale Adventist Medical Center (GAMC) after experiencing weakness. A GAMC doctor ordered an electrocardiogram (EGC) and an MRI. A GAMC technologist failed to remove the EGC pads prior to the MRI, resulting in burns to Kruthanooch’s abdomen following the scan. Kruthanooch sued GAMC for professional negligence, elder abuse, and elder abuse per se. When he died, his estate was substituted in his place and abandoned all claims other than elder abuse. A jury found GAMC liable for elder abuse, but awarded no damages. The trial court then granted GAMC’s motion for JNOV, ruling there was no substantial evidence that GAMC had care or custody of Kruthanooch, or that it acted with neglect or recklessness. The estate appealed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed. First, the court held the estate fail to present substantial evidence that GAMC had a robust caretaking or custodial relationship with Kruthanooch required to establish a custodial relationship under the Elder Abuse Act, as construed by Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, Inc. (2016) 63 Cal.4th 148. The court explained that the heightened remedies provided under the Act are available only when the defendant has “ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs” of an elderly patient. Although GAMC admitted Kruthanooch for in-patient care and provided him with mobility and hydration assistance, that did not mean GAMC assumed a robust caretaking or custodial relationship where Kruthanooch was cognitively aware; capable of making his own medical decisions; and present at GAMC for only a few hours prior to his injury. Second, the court found no substantial evidence of neglect. The court explained that neglect refers not to the provision of substandard care, but instead to a caregiver’s failure to provide for the basic needs and comfort of an elder or dependent adult. While GAMC’s failure to screen Kruthanooch for EGC pads could support a finding of professional negligence based on the estate’s expert standard of care evidence, it was not evidence of neglect under the Act (i.e., the failure to provide any medical care or attend to a patient’s basic needs).
The bulletin describing this appellate decision was originally prepared for the California Society for Healthcare Attorneys (CSHA) by H. Thomas Watson and Peder K. Batalden, who are partners at the appellate firm Horvitz & Levy LLP, and is republished with permission.