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Stewart v. Superior Court

Cite as E067316

Filed October 12, 2017, Fourth District, Div. Two

Anthony Carter, 78, named Maxine Stewart as his agent for health care. After being admitted to the St. Mary Medical Center, Carter was advised, inter alia, that he should be placed in hospice care, receive a gastronomy tube, and have a pacemaker placed to correct irregularities in his heartbeat. Stewart canceled the heart surgery, suspecting that the irregularities were due to sleep apnea, and sought second opinions. While those opinions were pending, the hospital’s ethics committee convened, Stewart’s power of attorney was voided, and the hospital proceeded with the surgery. Sometime shortly thereafter, Carter went into cardiac arrest, allegedly due to complications from the pacemaker, and ultimately died. Stewart brought suit and alleged numerous causes of action as the personal representative of Carter’s estate. Respondents moved for summary adjudication and the court granted the motion as to the causes of action for elder abuse, fraud by concealment, and medical battery, while allowing other claims to proceed to trial. Stewart appealed and sought a writ of mandate.

The appellate court issued the peremptory writ of mandate and vacated the trial court’s grant of summary adjudication. The court found that there were triable issues of material fact as to the claims for elder abuse, fraud by concealment, and medical battery. The court held that elders have the right to autonomy in the medical decision-making process and that deprivation of this right can constitute actionable “neglect” under California’s elder abuse laws. Further, the court found that a reasonable jury could find that the hospital failed to provide medical care for physical and mental health needs, and failed to protect the elder from health and safety hazards.

Additionally, the court found that there were multiple triable issues of fact which would not warrant summary adjudication of the fraud by concealment claim, including the possibility that the hospital could have intentionally concealed the ethics committee meeting and the surgery from Stewart. Lastly, although the hospital argued it was not liable for medical battery caused by the surgery because the surgeons were independent contractors, the court found that there were triable issues of fact regarding the hospital’s involvement in proceeding with the surgery. Accordingly, the trial court’s order granting summary adjudication was vacated.

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