(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this elder abuse case and its proceedings.)
It is also worth noting that situations similar to those described in this medical negligence case could just as easily occur at any of the healthcare facilities in the area, such as Kaiser Permanente, U.C. Davis Medical Center, Mercy, Sutter, or any skilled nursing facility.
PLAINTIFF HAS ALLEGED SUFFICIENT FACTS OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES
In passing on the correctness of a ruling on a motion to strike, the allegations of the complaint must be read as a whole, all parts in their context, and the court must assume the truth of the allegations. Courtesy Ambulance Service v. Superior Court (1992) 8 Cal.App.4th 1504, 1519; Dawes v. Superior Court (1980) 111 Cal.App.3d 82, 91. In ruling on a motion to strike, courts do not read allegations in isolation. Clauson v. Superior Court (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1253, 1255; Perkins v. Superior Court (1981) 117 Cal.App.3d 1, 6. For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.
Civil Code §3294(a) provides that when a defendant is guilty of oppression, malice or fraud, plaintiff may recover punitive damages. Civil Code § 3294(c) defines the terms malice and oppression:
(1) Malice means conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.
(2) Oppression means despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person’s rights.
Under Civil Code §3294, the terms willful, malicious, and oppressive are the statutory description of the type of conduct which can sustain a claim for punitive damages. [W]here the complaint pleads sufficient facts to apprise the defendant of the basis upon which relief is sought and to permit the drawing of appropriate legal conclusions at trial, absence of the labels willful, malicious, and oppressive from the complaint, does not defeat the claim for punitive damages. Blegen v. Superior Court (1981) 125 Cal.App.3d 959, 963.
It is well established that a conscious disregard for the safety of others may constitute the malice required to sustain a claim for punitive damages. Taylor v. Superior Court (1979) 24 Cal.3d 890; G. D. Searle & Co. v. Superior Court (1975) 49 Cal.App.3d 22. A person acts with conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others when he is aware of the probable dangerous consequences of his conduct and willfully and deliberately fails to avoid those consequences. Potter v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. (1993) 6 Cal.4th 965, 998; Taylor, supra, at 890; Blegen, supra, at 963; 6. D. Searle & Co. v. Superior Court (1975) 49 Cal.App.3d 22.
Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts of defendant’s malice and oppression – its despicable conduct with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of Mr. White – repeatedly feeding Mr. White solid foods in violation of orders, Patient Care Plans, policies and procedures, and complaints by Mr. White’s family, to the extent that Mr. White aspirated, and ended up ventilator dependent. The facts alleged of defendant’s reckless neglect also are sufficient to plead conscious disregard of Mr. White’s rights, and defendant’s despicable conduct that subjected Mr. White to cruel and unjust hardship.
The sole issue is whether the facts pleaded state a valid cause of action, not whether defendant’s argument of the facts should prevail. Del E. Webb Corp. v. Structural Materials Co. (1981) 123 Cal.App.3d 93, 604. Plaintiff has plead facts to establish the standards of Civil Code §3294(b) sufficient to state a cause of action against defendant National, and a claim for punitive damages. Therefore, defendant’s demurrer and motion to strike must be denied.
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.