State's high court upholds MICRA's longstanding definition of professional negligence

May 05, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: MICRA Professional Liability 

The California Supreme Court has reversed an appellate court opinion that would have thwarted the long-standing definition of "professional negligence" in California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). The ruling, had it been allowed to stand as precedent for future cases, could have been misused to undermine the goals of MICRA and adversely affect the entirety of the health care system and safety net in California.

In this case, Flores vs. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, a hospital inpatient sued for injuries she allegedly sustained from a fall when her hospital bed rail, which was to be raised pursuant to physician order, collapsed. The appeals court ruled that the negligence did not occur in the rendering of professional services and as such was subject to the two-year statute of limitations for ordinary negligence rather than the one-year statute of limitations for professional negligence.

The California Medical Association (CMA) filed a brief with the state's high court in this case, pointing out that under the long-standing definitions in MICRA, professional negligence includes any act or omission by a health care provider in the rendering of professional services for which the provider is licensed. Despite this clear definition and the fact that the provision and maintenance of safe hospital beds is a service for which hospitals are licensed, the Court of Appeal’s opinion failed to even address the pertinent licensing laws and regulations.

CMA's brief argued that the rule the plaintiff proposed – that MICRA should be limited to conduct requiring specialized medical skills – is contrary to statutory intent as evidenced by the statutory language, longstanding decisional authority and legislative history.

The California Supreme Court reversed the appeals court decision, stating that "because [the] plaintiff’s injury resulted from alleged negligence in the use and maintenance of equipment needed to implement the doctor’s order concerning her medical treatment, we conclude that plaintiff’s claim sounds in professional, rather than ordinary, negligence."

MICRA, California’s landmark professional liability reforms, have for more than 40 years fairly compensated injured parties while protecting access to care for Californians. For more information on MICRA, visit www.cmanet.org/micra.

Contact: CMA's legal information line, (800) 786-4262 or legalinfo@cmadocs.org.


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