California Court of Appeals Holds that Professional Negligence Claim Requires the Negligence Have Occurred in the Rendering of Professional Services

In a recent premises liability case, the California Court of Appeals reviewed a judgment in favor of a hospital. On appeal, the issue was whether the hospital’s conduct in mopping a floor and failing to warn, resulting in a slip and fall injury, consisted of professional negligence or ordinary negligence.   Under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), a claim for professional negligence against a health care provider must be brought within three years from the date of the injury, or one year from the discovery of the injury, whichever came first. An ordinary negligence claim provides for a statute of limitations of two years.

The plaintiff in this case alleged that, while walking to her private bathroom in the defendant’s hospital room, she slipped and fell on a recently mopped floor. There were no warning cones, although the floor was wet. The plaintiff knew of the alleged negligence but did not file her complaint seeking damages for personal injury until nearly one year later.

The defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiff’s action was time-barred. The trial court granted the motion and ruled the action was one for “professional negligence,” since the negligence was committed in the act of safeguarding a patient. The trial court found the claim fell under professional negligence because the defendant owed a duty to take appropriate measures for patient safety, rendering services for which the defendant is licensed.

The appeals court stated the standard of review is to consider the evidence and determine whether summary judgment is appropriate. There must be no triable issue of material fact.

First, the appellate court reviewed MICRA and the policy behind shortening the statute of limitations for professional negligence. MICRA’s limitations period provides for a statute of limitations one year after the discovery of the injury. Professional negligence is defined as an act by a health care provider in rendering professional services. The appeals court stated that the intent in shortening the statute of limitations was to give insurers certainty about liability.

Next, the court reviewed pre-MICRA case law and stated that not every tortious injury is malpractice. For example, a patient injured from a collapsing chair in a doctor’s office would fall under ordinary negligence, not professional malpractice.

After MICRA, the determining factor is whether the negligent act occurred in the rendering of services for which the health care provider is licensed. The court reviewed case law concerning the type of care owed by a hospital to an injured patient. The court rejected the idea that negligence may be deemed professional or ordinary based on the level of skill required. Professional negligence is a negligent act by a health care provider in the rendering of professional services.

In this case, the court held that mopping the floor and failing to place a warning sign did not occur during the rendering of professional services. The plaintiff had alleged facts in support of an ordinary negligence claim. Her action falls within the two-year limitations period.

The court also stated that a patient injured by a negligently maintained, unsafe condition on a hospital’s premises does not necessarily qualify as professional negligence. The determination is whether the negligence occurred in the rendering of professional services.  The appeals court reversed the judgment, awarding costs to the plaintiff on appeal.

At Sharifi Law, we advocate on behalf of premises liability accident victims throughout California. We are available for a free consultation. Contact our office at 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court of Appeals Upholds Evidentiary Ruling in Grocery Store Slip & Fall Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 17, 2015

California Court of Appeal Sides with Target in Slip and Fall Ruling, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 3, 2015

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