The following blog entry is written from a defendant’s position as trial approaches. Reviewing this kind of briefing should help potential plaintiffs and clients better understand how parties in personal injury cases present such issues to the court.
(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this wrongful death/brain injury case and its proceedings.)
Plaintiff’s Complaint is Uncertain Because the Facts Support Only a Cause of Action for Professional Negligence and Not for General Negligence
California Code of Civil Procedure §430.10 provides, in pertinent part:
The party against whom a complaint … has been filed may object, by demurrer … to the pleading on any one or more of the following grounds:
(e) The pleading does not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.
(f) The pleading is uncertain. As used in this subdivision, uncertain includes ambiguous and unintelligible.
A demurrer may be taken to the entire complaint or to any of the causes of action stated in the complaint. Code Civ. Proc. §430.50. For the purposes of testing the sufficiency of the cause of action, the demurrer assumes all material facts alleged in the complaint to be true. Serrano v. Priest (1971) 5 Cal.3d 584, 591, cert denied, 432 U.S. 907. The function of a demurrer is to test the sufficiency of a complaint as a matter of law and it only raises questions of law. Banerian v. O’Malley (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 604, 611. A demurrer must be sustained if the complaint’s cause of action is uncertain. Code of Civ. Proc. §§430.10(f).
Plaintiff’s complaint is uncertain and ambiguous in that the facts pleaded in each cause of action read like medical negligence/wrongful death causes of action, but all five causes of action are set forth on General Negligence attachments. It is unclear whether plaintiff is, in fact, asserting professional negligence causes of action or attempting to plead general negligence causes of action as well. C.C.P. §430.10(f).
Based upon her allegations, the plaintiff’s complaint should plead one cause of action for medical negligence which allegedly resulted in her mother’s wrongful death. Based on the complaint allegations, plaintiff’s cause of action must be one of professional negligence, and it should be pleaded as such to avoid any confusion. If plaintiff is alleging any general negligence causes of action, UMC requests that the court strike such claims because a cause of action for general negligence cannot be advanced under these circumstances.
California law is clear on this issue. An action for damages arises out of the professional negligence of a health care provider if the patient’s injury or death is directly related to the professional services provided by the health care provider. The test of whether a health care provider’s negligence constitutes professional negligence is whether the negligence occurred in rendering services for which the health care provider is licensed. Canister v. Emergency Ambulance Service (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 388, 404; Murillo v. Good Samaritan Hospital (1979) 99 Cal.App.3d 50, 57. It is not the degree of skill required but whether the injuries arose out of the rendering of professional services that determines whether professional as opposed to ordinary negligence applies. Canister, supra, at 404 and Murilo, supra, at 57.
Should the complaint survive the statute of limitations challenge, it should be reduced to a single cause of action for professional negligence. As it is, the complaint states various causes of action contain different theories but do not advance different legally viable claims. Defendant requests that the complaint be unambiguously streamlined should a summary judgment motion become necessary. (See Part 5 of 5.)
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.