California Court Determines Hospital’s Failure to Follow Patient’s Health Care Directive Was Not Elder Abuse

In a recent California wrongful death case, an appellate court dismissed a claim against a hospital after it failed to follow a woman’s health care directive stating that she wanted all life-saving measures to be taken. The 70-year-old woman was suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer and was being treated at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla when she died. Her advance health care directive stated that she wanted all measures taken to prolong her life. The woman designated her son as the person who could make health care decisions for her, and he also told the doctors that he wanted everything done to prolong her life.

However, the hospital did not provide the woman with certain life-support measures because her doctors believed that the measures would have been ineffective and would have caused her to suffer more harm than good. One of her doctors believed that continuing to treat her would cause her additional pain and suffering. He entered a do not resuscitate (DNR) order, but he did not tell the woman’s son about the order at the time. The woman’s son understood that her death was imminent and that she was not going to survive, but he still wanted her advance health-care directive to be followed. The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate while she was at the hospital, and she died several days after her arrival.

Her children sued the hospital, alleging that the hospital failed to provide the life-sustaining treatment she had requested in her advance health care directive, arguing in part that the hospital committed elder abuse by neglecting and physically abusing her.

The court determined that the plaintiffs did not allege the hospital’s conduct was sufficiently egregious to constitute elder abuse. The court decided that although the defendants withheld pain medication, nutrition, and fluids, they provided extensive medical care during her hospitalization. She was not abandoned or ignored for extended periods of time, but instead the family disagreed with the nature of the care she received. Therefore, the claim against the hospital was dismissed.

California’s Elder Abuse Act

California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Elder Abuse Act) applies to individuals in California who are 65 or older who have been abused. To prove a claim under the Elder Abuse Act, a plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant is liable for abuse or neglect and that the defendant acted with “recklessness, oppression, fraud, or malice.” A plaintiff who proves an Elder Abuse Act claim is not subject to the general limitations on damages under California’s Code of Civil Procedure. They also allow for the recovery of damages for pain, suffering, and disfigurement that occurred before the individual’s death.

Under the Elder Abuse Act, abuse is defined as physical abuse, neglect, and the deprivation of goods or services “that are necessary to avoid physical harm or mental suffering.” Neglect is defined as the “negligent failure of any person having the care or custody of an elder or a dependent adult to exercise that degree of care that a reasonable person in a like position would exercise.”

Consult an Experienced Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer

If you believe your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, the personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm may be able to bring a lawsuit on your behalf. At Sharifi Firm, PLC, our attorneys can assist families who are pursuing a California wrongful death claim after the loss of a loved one. Our experienced trial attorneys can offer knowledgeable legal counsel and aggressive representation in your claim against another individual or entity. Contact us at 1-866-422-7222 or via our online form for a free consultation.

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According to Recent California Appellate Opinion, Landlord Has No Legal Duty to Provide Defibrillator Device, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, April 19, 2018

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