Sababin v. Covina Rehabilitation Center (144 Cal.App.4th 81,50 Cal.Rptr.3d 266)

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Sababin v. Covina Rehabilitation Center (144 Cal.App.4th 81,50 Cal.Rptr.3d 266)

Sababin v. Covina Rehabilitation Center (144 Cal.App.4th 81,50 Cal.Rptr.3d 266)
Plaintiff (Appellee) – Sababin v. Covina Rehabilitation Center
Defendant (Appellant) – Covina Rehabilitation Center, Real Party in Interest; Respondent- The Superior Court of Los Angeles County
Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 2, California
Sababin, on behalf of the estate of Arlene Renteria, sued Covina Rehabilitation Center for, among other things, dependent adult abuse. The trial court granted summary judgment on the ground that there was no evidence that Covina was guilty of something more than professional negligence. Sababin appealed.
Arlene Renteria was diagnosed with Huntington’s Chorea, a disease that subjected her to the risk of skin deterioration. Huntington’s Chorea is a genetic disorder characterized by uncontrolled movements, progressive dementia, psychiatric problems, and psychoses caused of the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. In general, there is a loss of cognitive and mental functions. People affected with this disorder are at increased risk for infection and weight loss. Renteria needed a gastronomy tube and was dependant on other for nutrition and hydration. On June 16, 2000 she was transferred from Specialty Hospital of Southern California to Covina. At that time, she weighed 93 pounds. By April 16, 2001, her weight had fallen to 75.4 pounds. After her diet was adjusted, her weight increased to approximately 105 pounds. Toward the end of 2002, her tube feedings were reduced. On February 28, 2003, she was down to 91 pounds. Renteria’s care plan required Covina employees to monitor her skin on a daily basis for redness or breakdown and report to a physician for a treatment order in the event of skin problems. In late February 2003, Renteria developed diarrhea. After her condition did not improve, she was admitted to the emergency room on March 2, 2003. At that time she had lacerations on her toes and feet and had poor skin condition on both buttocks, which were dark red and squishy. Covina had no documentation of those conditions, nor had a physician been notified for a treatment order. Renteria was also found to have a pustule with MRSA on her left hand and was 82% underweight. Additionally, it was discovered that Renteria had pressure ulcers caused by protein malnutrition, pressure sores on her buttocks area, vaginal bleeding, and a small abrasion on her left minor labia. She died a few months later. The cause of death was MRSA sepsis to an infected sacral skin ulcer.
The trial court granted summary judgment for Covina, finding that they could not be held liable under the elder dependant adult abuse statutes unless it injured Renteria due to a total absence of care. They continued that dependent adult abuse arises in the context of custodial care, not in the context of professional negligence. They did not find any evidence of custodial neglect.
Did the plaintiff raise any triable issues as to whether Covina’s employees were guilty of reckless, oppressive or malicious neglect under Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act?
Yes. The court ruled that “a trier of fact could find that when a care facility’s employees ignore a care plan and fail to check the skin condition of a resident with Huntington’s Chorea, such conduct shows deliberate disregard of the high degree of probability that she will suffer injury.”
Pursuant to the Elder Abuse and Dependent Civil Adult Protection Act, heightened remedies are available to plaintiffs who successfully sue for dependent adult abuse. Where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant is liable for neglect or physical abuse, and the plaintiff proves that the defendant acted with recklessness, oppression, fraud, or malice, a court shall award attorneys fees and costs. Additionally, a decedent’s survivors can recover damages for the decedent’s pain and suffering.

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