Business Law

Oroville Hospital v. Superior Court of Butte County (Ambrose) (Jan. 26, 2022) __ Cal.App.5th __, 2022 WL 224494

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Providing wound care (but not basic needs) to an elder does not establish the custodial relationship required for Elder Abuse Act liability.

Oroville Hospital nurses provided Eyvon Ambrose with in-home care for her pressure injury. Ambroseā€™s granddaughter provided for her basic needs, such as dressing, eating, taking medications, and using the restroom. When her pressure wound worsened and she sustained additional wounds, Ambrose was admitted to the hospital where she ultimately died. Ambroseā€™s heirs sued Oroville Hospital for neglect, recklessness, and other theories under the Elder Abuse Act (Welf. & Inst. Code, Ā§15600 et seq.), among other claims. The trial court denied the Oroville Hospitalā€™s motion for summary adjudication of the elder abuse claim, ruling there was a triable issue whether it ā€œhad a substantial caretaking or custodial relationshipā€ with Ambrose. Oroville Hospital petitioned for writ relief.

The Court of Appeal granted writ relief. Relying onĀ Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, Inc.Ā (2016) 63 Cal.4th 148, the court explained that Oroville Hospital need not assumeĀ allĀ responsibility for an elderā€™s needs to be deemed a caretaker or custodian. Rather, what matters is whether it assumed a significant measure of responsibility for attending to basic needs that a competent, able-bodied adult would ordinarily manage without assistance. Here there was no evidence that Oroville Hospital established such a relationship. Ambroseā€™s general vulnerability did not mean that anyone who provided her with a service entered into a caretaking or custodial relationship with her. And merely providing wound care did not satisfy a ā€œbasic needā€ envisioned by the Elder Abuse Act. Accordingly, the trial court erred by denying summary adjudication of the elder abuse cause of action.
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.

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