Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of California issued a written opinion holding that a doctor, nursing home employee, or other person with a custodial relationship to an elderly person may be held liable based on that person’s failure to refer the resident to a medical specialist when the situation calls for such a referral. In the case, Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, the plaintiff was ultimately unsuccessful in establishing the necessary relationship between the defendant and the elder, but the court did note that liability could be appropriate in some situations.
The plaintiffs in the case were the surviving family members of a woman who had died while in the care of the defendant doctors. The elderly woman was being provided outpatient treatment by several doctors. Neither of the doctors made a referral to a specialist, although some facts were evident that would suggest such a referral was appropriate. Ultimately, the elderly woman passed away from blood poisoning. The plaintiffs then filed a claim of elder abuse against the doctors, claiming that it was negligent of them to not refer her to a specialist.
The defendants asked the trial court to dismiss the case against them, claiming that only care custodians can be held liable for elder abuse. The lower court agreed. However, on appeal to the intermediate appellate court, the decision was reversed in the plaintiffs’ favor. The defendant then appealed that order to the state’s supreme court.