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CA: attempted suicide patient on 72-hour hold: can patient sue hospital for negligence in fall? (Hospital Law Decisions of Note).

CASE FACTS: Fern Jacobs attempted suicide by overdosing on medication. The medical staff at Grossmont Hospital's emergency room determined that she posed a danger to herself and placed her on a 72-hour hold. Hospital authorities also contacted Jacobs' primary care physician who requested that she be admitted to the hospital for treatment related to her overdose. During the 72-hour hold, pursuant to a physician's order, a nurse assisted Jacobs as she walked down a hospital corridor. Jacobs was wearing a rubber slipper that caught on the floor, causing her to fall and fracture a bone in her leg. Jacobs sued the hospital for negligence and premises liability. Her negligence claim alleged that the hospital "negligently and carelessly failed to supervise and monitor [her] while she was making a doctor ordered walk down the hospital corridor" and that the defendants "knew, or in exercise of reasonable care for [her] safety should have known, that [she] was likely to fall while walking as a result of her physical and mental condition." She further alleged that the hospital allowed a substance to be on the floor, which directly and proximately resulted in her fall. The court granted the hospital's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the patient's causes of action were barred by a hospital immunity law, which granted the hospital immunity from liability in conjunction with the treatment and evaluation provided in connection with a lawfully initiated 72-hour hold. Jacobs appealed the court's judgment.

COURT'S OPINION: The Court of Appeal of California reversed the judgment of the lower court. The court held, inter alia, that the patient's allegation that the hospital's negligence during the 72-hour hold proximately caused her injuries was not in any way related to the immunity the hospital had under the "hold" law. The court decided that the lower court erroneously assumed that the hospital was exempt from "all" liability from any negligence on its part that may have occurred during the "lawful" 72-hour hold. The court made it clear that this was not a correct interpretation of the 72-hour hold pursuant to which a hospital is immune from suit for holding a patient. The court held that the only relevant inquiry in the case was whether the hospital was liable for the plaintiff's injuries, which were allegedly caused by its failure to use due care in administering treatment to her. Because the hospital could not say that as a matter of law, the hospital did not breach the applicable standard of care, the court had no recourse but to reverse the judgment of the lower court. Jacobs v. Grossmont Hospital, 433 Cal.Rptr. 2d 9 -CA (2003)

A. David Tammelleo, JD, is a nationally recognized authority on health care law. Practicing law for over 40 years, he concentrates in health care law with the Providence, R.I., firm of A. David Tammelleo & Associates. He has presented seminars on medical, nursing and hospital law throughout the United States. In addition to his writings as Editor of Medical Law's. Nursing Law's & Hospital Law's Reagan Reports, his legal articles have been published in the most prestigious health law journals. A prolific writer, his thousands of articles, as well as his achievements as an attorney and lecturer, have won him recognition in Martindale-Hubbell's Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers, Marquis Who's Who in American Law, and Who's Who in America.
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Author:Tammelleo, A. David
Publication:Hospital Law's Regan Report
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 1, 2003
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