State Supreme Court Rules on Adult Protective Services Suit

Jul 1, 2014

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that hospitals can be sued under laws designed to protect vulnerable adults. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports.

The case involves two separate individuals whose survivors claim were the victims of abuse or neglect at hospitals. Rather than simply sue under malpractice laws, they charged the hospitals were guilty of violating the state’s Adult Protective Services Act. The hospitals argued that law was meant to apply only to things like nursing homes.

But, Chief Justice Rebecca Berch said that makes no sense. She said patients can get bed sores from not being turned just as easily in hospitals as any other medical facility. Attorney Shannon Clark, who represents one of the families, said there’s an important reason to sue under abuse laws.

“The pain and suffering that the victim endured as a result of abuse, neglect or exploitation would survive the victim’s death. Whereas, in a traditional negligence case, if someone had pain and suffering before they passed away, the pain and suffering component would be extinguished by the patient’s death,” Clark said.

Greg Vigdor, CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association said he is studying the ruling.

“I think any time that the medical malpractice area opens up that we get concerns because it’s such a big cost issue that everyone gets to pay,” Vigdor said.

Vigdor said one option would be to ask the Legislature to specifically exempt hospitals from laws protecting vulnerable adults.