Document Category: Legal
State: California
Subject Matter: Elder Abuse - Clarification of Custodial Relationship
Document Title: Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group 2016 Cal. LEXIS 3432

On May 19, 2016, the California Supreme Court held that the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf & Instit. Code Sec. 15600) does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basis needs, with the elder patient. “It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult’s relationship with the defendant–not the defendant’s professional standing–that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect.” (Winn v. Pioneer Med. Group (May 19, 2016, No. S211793) ___Cal.4th___ [2016 Cal. LEXIS 3432].)


In Winn, Plaintiffs are the surviving heirs of Ms. Cox who sought medical care on an outpatient basis at Pioneer’s facilities. While at Pioneer, Ms. Cox received treatment from a doctor and podiatrist. Over time, Ms. Cox’s health began to worsen and the Pioneer doctors did not refer her to a specialist.  Ms. Cox was later admitted to a hospital for blood poisoning and died several days later. Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleged medical malpractice against the doctors and against Pioneer for elder abuse. This case was analyzed by the Court of Appeal, before making it to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court of California granted review to consider whether a claim of neglect under the Elder Abuse Act requires a caretaking or custodial relationship—where a person has assumed significant responsibility for attending to one or more of those basic needs of the elder or dependent adult that an able-bodied and fully competent adult would ordinarily be capable of managing without assistance. Winn held that the statutory and legislative intent for the Elder Abuse Act  only applies to health care providers who had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship with the elder patient.


The Court determined that the defendants (the doctors and Pioneer) treated Ms. Cox at the outpatient clinics operated by Pioneer, but that Plaintiffs offered no other explanation for why defendants’ intermittent outpatient medical treatment forged a caretaking or custodial relationship between Ms. Cox and defendants. No allegations in the complaint supported an inference that Ms. Cox relied on defendants in any way distinct from an able-bodied and fully competent adult’s reliance on the advice of care from his or her medical providers. Therefore, the Court held that the defendants lacked the needed caretaking or custodial relationship with the decedent, Ms. Cox.


While Winn’s facts centered around an outpatient medical clinic, the holding is applicable to skilled nursing facilities. We intend to use Winn as a basis for Motions for Summary Adjudication or Motions for Summary Judgment when Elder Abuse has been alleged to any defendant who has not provided a substantial caretaking or lacks a custodial relationship with the elder patient, such as the parent corporations or corporate entities who are commonly named in these elder abuse actions.  This care weighs heavily in our favor and narrows the scope of the Elder Abuse Act.

Document Author: California Supreme Court
Firm/Company: Perry Johnson Anderson Miller & Moscowitz
Document Date: May 19, 2016
Search Tags: elder abuse, CA, custodial, caretaking
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