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Elder Abuse Statute Does Not Limit Liability to Health Care Providers with Custodial Obligations

Can a medical professional's failure to refer an outpatient client to a health specialist constitute elder abuse? A plaintiff's decision to sue for elder abuse under the Welfare and Institutions Code brings with it enhanced remedies that would include attorney fees that is not available in professional negligence cases. Accordingly, this topic is important for guardians and victims of elder abuse cases as well as health care professionals.

Kathleen Winn and Karen Brendahl (plaintiffs and appellants) are daughters of Elizabeth Cox (decedent), an outpatient who was receiving medical care from Pioneer Medical Group, Inc. (defendants and respondents). Pioneer Medical Group began providing medical care to Elizabeth in 2000, and by 2004 the defendants knew that Elizabeth suffered from impaired lower vascular flow. In 2007, when she was under the sole medical care of the defendants, she was diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease, however, defendants failed to refer her to a vascular specialist. The following years saw a deterioration in Elizabeth's health caused by her right leg vascular condition consistent with peripheral vascular ischemia. In April 2009, Elizabeth's right leg was amputated below the knee. Two months later, her right leg above the knee was amputated. In January 2010, she was hospitalized with blood poisoning and died several days later.

Kathleen and Karen filed a complaint for elder abuse stating that Pioneer Medical Group recklessly "failed to provide such needed medical care to Elizabeth under circumstances where defendants…knew the health and well-being of decedent depended on such care." Pioneer Medical Group argued that they cannot be liable for elder abuse since liability for elder abuse "requires assumption of custodial obligations, which was not present in Elizabeth's case since she was treated as an outpatient. They also argued that the conduct plaintiffs allege only constitutes professional negligence and, as a matter of law, does not amount to the "reckless neglect" required for an elder abuse claim.

Tune in for more on this topic on subsequent blog.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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