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Fenimore v. Regents of the University of California

245 Cal. App. 4th 1339 (2016)

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Fenimore v. Regents of the University of California

California Court of Appeal

245 Cal. App. 4th 1339 (2016)

Facts

After the age of 65, George Fenimore began to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Fenimore became confused, began to wander away from home, and fell with increasing frequency. Fenimore’s family members (plaintiffs) admitted him to a state neuropsychiatric hospital (defendant) for his own protection. The hospital knew that Fenimore was an extreme fall risk and needed 24-hour supervision and acute care. Within minutes, the understaffed hospital left Fenimore unattended, and he fell. The hospital staff did not assess Fenimore adequately at the time of the fall. When Fenimore’s family members came to visit later that day, a nurse and occupational therapist said that Fenimore fell while he was trying to follow the nurse into the hall. Doctors later recorded that Fenimore suffered a mechanical fall while the nursing staff was changing his adult diaper. Fenimore received no medical attention or further assessment for the next four days, except acetaminophen for leg pain and a recommendation for a hip x-ray because he was not walking. The x-ray results showed Fenimore had a hip fracture. Fenimore had surgery that day to repair his hip and moved to a rehabilitation ward, but he never recovered and passed away from his injuries over three months later. Fenimore’s family members brought an action, claiming that the hospital violated California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Elder Abuse Act), which protected individuals 65 years of age and older. The hospital filed a demurrer, seeking dismissal of the claim on the grounds that there was no entitlement to legal relief. Fenimore’s family members filed an amended complaint stating that the hospital committed neglect by letting Fenimore fall, not treating Fenimore’s fractured hip for four days, and violating state regulations for staffing acute psychiatric hospitals. Fenimore’s family members claimed that the hospital chronically violated state staffing regulations for acute psychiatric hospitals in order to cut costs while knowing that this course of action would endanger the facility’s elderly and dependent patients. The trial court sustained the hospital’s demurrer. Fenimore’s family members appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Flier, J.)

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