Court Finds Nursing Home Employees May Be Liable for Failure to Refer Resident to Specialist Physician

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 Facts of the Case

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.

The Supreme Court of California’s Opinion

The court primarily looked at the language of the statute giving rise to the cause of action. The Elder Abuse Act allows for lawsuits to be brought when there is “neglect” of an elderly person. Neglect is defined by the statute as a “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.” The issue is whether an outpatient doctor has “the care or custody” of their patient.

The court ultimately held that the statute did not apply to these doctors. The court did not say that outpatient care could never give rise to liability, just that it was not appropriate here. Of course, nursing home residents and those receiving inpatient hospital care would likely meet this definition.

Is Your Loved One Being Neglected?

If you have a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, and you fear that they are being abused or neglected, you should consult an experienced Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect attorney as soon as possible. These cases can hinge on evidence that, if destroyed, can have a devastating effect on the case’s viability. It is important to get an attorney involved early in the process to ensure that all evidence is preserved. Call the skilled attorneys at the Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers at 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Hot Air Balloon Operator Not Entitled to Immunity under Recreational Use Statute, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, April 15 2016

Motions for Summary Judgment in Washington, D.C. Courts, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, May 9, 2016

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