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Ortiz v. WMC-A, Inc. (2017)

April 27, 2017

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Horvitz & Levy LLP obtained a favorable result for its client in this case involving claims of professional negligence and dependent adult abuse against a hospital.  Plaintiff Ramon Ortiz sustained a neck and spine injury while a resident of the mental health unit at our client, Western Medical Center Anaheim (now Anaheim Global Medical Center).  Ortiz sued the hospital, alleging negligence and violation of the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act.  The case proceeded to trial and resulted in a verdict for the hospital on both claims.  The jury, when answering a question on the special verdict form about plaintiff’s professional negligence claim, found that the hospital was not “negligent in [its] care and treatment” of Mr. Ortiz.  When answering a question about the plaintiff’s claim for dependent adult abuse, the jury found that the hospital’s employees “failed to use that degree of care that a reasonable person in the same situation would have used in the provision of medical and/or custodial care.”  But the jury found no liability on that cause of action because it found that the hospital had not acted with recklessness, fraud, malice, or oppression.  Mr. Ortiz appealed, claiming the jury’s answers were inconsistent and irreconcilable, and that a new trial was required.

The California Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division Three) affirmed in an unpublished opinion.  The court held that the verdict was ambiguous as to whether the jury’s answer to the dependent adult abuse question intended to refer to medical or custodial care, and that the appellant provided an inadequate record.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeal deferred to the trial court’s finding that the verdict could be reconciled because the jury could have found that the hospital provided adequate medical care but failed to provide adequate custodial care.  The court also found that a finding of no professional negligence is not inconsistent with a finding of custodial neglect under the Elder Abuse Act, because dependent adult abuse as defined in the Elder Abuse Act covers a different type of conduct than common law professional negligence.