Doctors Can Be Liable For Elder Abuse
Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group, Inc.
(Cal. Ct. of App., 2d Dist.), filed May 24, 2013
Beginning in 2000, Elizabeth M. Cox was under the medical care of doctors Emerico Csepanyi and James Chinuk Lee, who maintained offices at Pioneer Medical Group in Cerritos and Long Beach.
Despite evidence Cox was suffering diminished vascular flow in her leg and foot, the doctors failed to refer her to a vascular specialist over a two-year period during which her diminishing vascular flow worsened.
Cox was eventually admitted to the hospital, where emergency vascular surgery was performed, without success. A month later, Cox was re-admitted for a below-the-knee amputation of her right leg. Two months later, she underwent an above-the-knee amputation of her right leg. Seven months later, she was hospitalized with blood poisoning and died.
Cox’s children sued the doctors for elder abuse, based on their repeated decisions not to refer their mother to a vascular specialist.
The trial court dismissed the action based on its conclusion that the doctors could not be liable for elder abuse because they treated Cox as an outpatient, and liability for elder abuse “requires assumption of custodial obligations.”
HOLDING & REASONING
The Court of Appeal reversed.
It held the elder abuse statute does not limit liability to health care providers with custodial obligations. The statute is not confined to health care providers who assume custodial obligations.
The court also held that the question of whether the doctors’ conduct was reckless rather than merely negligent was for a jury to decide.
This case helps to clarify the elder abuse statute’s reach with respect to health care providers.