Samantha B. v. Aurora Vista Del Mar
Under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), a medical malpractice lawsuit in California usually places a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. This applies in cases where a licensed professional entity behaves negligently. However, if a victim suffers injury or death under ordinary rather than professional care, this cap does not apply.
The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, also known as the Elder Abuse Act, defines culpability standards that help determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred. Under this act, recklessness is a willful disregard for foreseeable consequences of neglectful or abusive actions.
Samantha B., et. al. v. Aurora Vista Del Mar, LLC, et. al. is a case that involved an unlicensed mental health assistant whom sexually abused patients in a mental health facility. The Court of Appeals re-evaluated whether MICRA damage caps apply or whether reckless culpability by a non-professional party occurred, allowing for unlimited damages.
An Overview of the Facts of the Case
Samantha B., Danielle W., and C.F. were patients at a licensed psychiatric hospital named Aurora Vista Del Mar. Signature Healthcare Services owned the hospital. The hospital hired Juan Valencia.
When hired, Mr. Valencia answered “no” on a form that asked if he had ever had to register as a sex offender. A third-party consumer reporting agency found a misdemeanor charge seven years before he was hired, but this did not require sex offender registration.
Mr. Valencia’s background check did require fingerprint checks since the defendant was not a licensed mental health professional. Valencia had to sign forms on patient-staff relationships only once a year. He and other mental health professionals did not receive a test of their understanding of boundaries with patients from the hospital.
In 2013, Valencia allegedly engaged in sexual activity with three patients, Samantha B., Danielle W., and C.F., who had psychosis without their consent. Danielle W. was discharged from Aurora on November 29, 2013, and the next day she was spotted with Valencia at a party by a student nurse.
Samantha B. sued Aurora in 2015 after being discharged from the hospital in 2013. Her lawsuit was followed by another patient, C.F., who also sued the hospital in 2015.
The Procedure of the Case
The court consolidated all three victim’s lawsuits into one case, and a jury trial took place. The jury awarded Danielle W. $3 million, Samantha B. $3.75 million, and C.F. $6.5 million in non-economic damages. The plaintiffs also received punitive damages of $50,000 each. Negligence was found among the defendants, with Valencia found 35% at fault, Aurora 35% at fault, and Signature 30% at fault.
Aurora and Signature contended that the statute of limitations barred the three plaintiffs’ claims. According to the California Civil Code Proc 340.5, a victim must file a medical malpractice claim within one year of the date of injury. They also argued that the non-economic claims should be limited to $250,000 under MICRA.
The plaintiffs said MICRA’s time limit and damages cap did not apply. Instead, the requirements of the Elder Abuse Act should be applied.
Analysis of the Case
The court examined MICRA’s time limits for submitting claims. Under MICRA, charges alleging professional negligence are subject to a one-year statute of limitations. Under the Elder Abuse Act, cases alleging elder abuse have a four-year statute of limitations. It then evaluated whether MICRA or the Elder Abuse Act applied to the plaintiffs’ case.
The Second Appellate District explained that the purpose of MICRA is to discourage medical malpractice lawsuits. The Elder Abuse Act permits interested parties to hire lawyers to help abused elderly people and dependent adults in cases of reckless, malicious, fraudulent, or oppressive professional conduct. Claims filed under the Elder Abuse Act are distinct from claims filed under MICRA.
The court determined it was reckless behavior not to ensure that employees working with vulnerable adults obtain licensure and undergo extensive background checks. The Elder Abuse Act was applied in this lawsuit since there was no statute of limitations violation, and the damages awarded were reasonable.
In our opinion, MICRA does not apply when a person’s damage or death is caused by ordinary carelessness rather than professional negligence. This is also true when an unlicensed healthcare professional or business, in part or whole, causes injury or death. We also believe the California AB 1502, passed in 2021, can better protect nursing home residents from mismanagement and abuse in nursing facilities.
Get Legal Help for Your Case
If you or a loved one suffered abuse in a hospital or other health facility, seek the help of an elder abuse attorney. Our attorneys at Berberian Ain Law can review your case and discuss your legal options. Call us at (818) 808-0048 or fill out our contact form to schedule a free consultation.