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In re Medical Review Panel Proceeding of Lyons

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

November 15, 2017

IN RE: MEDICAL REVIEW PANEL PROCEEDING OF MILDRED LOUISE LYONS

         Appealed from the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. M25-2013 (Civil) Honorable J. Wilson Rambo, Judge

          PATRICK R. JACKSON, A.P.L.C. Counsel for Plaintiff By: Patrick R. Jackson Appellant, Theresa A. Henderson, Attorney-in-Fact for Mildred Louise Lyons

          MAYER, SMITH & ROBERTS, L.L.P. Counsel for Defendant By: Mark A. Goodwin Appellee, Christus Health Central Louisiana

          Before MOORE, PITMAN, and DREW (Ad Hoc), JJ.

          MOORE, J.

         The plaintiff, Mildred Louise Lyons, appeals from a summary judgment in favor of the defendant, Christus Health Central of Louisiana, that dismissed the Medical Review Panel proceeding instituted by the plaintiff against the defendant. For the following reasons, we render judgment granting the plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

         FACTS

         On November 29, 2012, Mildred Louise Lyons, age 84, was a resident of the assisted living portion of Christus St. Joseph's Home, known as St. Joseph's Home Assisted Living Center. Christus St. Joseph's Home is owned by Christus Health Central of Louisiana. Ms. Lyons had lived in the facility since May 5, 2009. Her apartment was located on the third floor.

         During the afternoon of that day, Ms. Lyons, who suffered from dementia, was found wandering in the parking lot of the facility looking for her car. She was redirected inside the facility and reportedly participated in activities later that afternoon.

         Ms. Lyons was present in her room at the 9:00 p.m. bed check, but she was not there for the 11:00 p.m. bed check. She was subsequently discovered lying unconscious on the ground outside the building below an open third-story window. The investigating police officer, Detective J.C. Sturdivant, determined that she had fallen 21 feet from the open window. In his report he wrote:

The window was at the end of the hallway of the third floor, where Lyons resided. The window had been raised, and the screen had been pushed away. It appeared that Lyons exited the third floor window, for an unknown reason, and fell to the ground.

         Ms. Lyons sustained serious injuries, including brain bleeding and multiple bone fractures to her legs, hip and ribs as well as other serious bodily injuries. However, she subsequently recovered and was later released from the hospital.

         Ms. Lyons died 2½ years later on July 30, 2015. Theresa Henderson, her sister who initiated this action on her behalf, has been substituted as the plaintiff.

         Ms. Lyons had a history of wandering. Detective Sturdivant also stated in his narrative that Michelle Musgrove, the director of the assisted living center, told him that it was common for Ms. Lyons to "get lost, " exit the building looking for her vehicle which she does not own, and forget which apartment she lived in. She reported that Ms. Lyons' condition had worsened, and for that reason she was on a list to be checked on approximately every two hours.

         Three weeks prior to this accident, on November 7, 2012, Ms. Lyons was taken to Woodlands Behavioral Center for psychiatric evaluation and medication adjustment with complaints of agitation, aggressive behavior and wandering. She was diagnosed with severe dementia (Alzheimer's type), impulse control disorder, hyperlipidemia and hypertension, labile mood, insomnia and vitamin deficiency. Her medications for these problems were adjusted, and upon discharge on November 22, 2012, her physical condition was described as poor. She was then sent directly to Winn Parish Medical Center hospital. She was returned back to Christus St. Joseph's on November 27, 2012.

         Two days later, Ms. Musgrove called Theresa Henderson about transferring Ms. Lyons to a more appropriate facility given her condition, and contacted The Oaks facility about evaluating Ms. Lyons for admission to that facility. However, before any further action was taken, the accident occurred.

         Ms. Henderson, filed a medical malpractice complaint against Christus St. Joseph's Home with the Louisiana Patient's Compensation Fund ("PCF") requesting a Medical Review Panel ("MRP") proceeding pursuant to the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act ("MMA" or "Act.[1]). The PCF sent plaintiff's attorney a letter stating that St. Joseph's Home is a self-insured provider "qualified for acts of medical malpractice under the provisions of La. R.S. 40:1299.41 et seq. for the claim." Christus Health Central sent plaintiff's counsel a letter stating that St. Joseph's Home is owned by Christus Health Central doing business as St. Joseph's Home. Before any further action was taken, the proceedings of the MRP were stayed because Christus Health Central filed a petition for declaratory judgment in district court. The petition asserted that this assisted living facility is not a "health care provider" as defined by the Act, does not provide "health care" as defined by the Act, and that the plaintiff's PCF claim is an ordinary negligence claim, not a medical malpractice claim, and therefore outside the scope of the Act. It also argued in a supporting memorandum that the plaintiff's negligence claim has now prescribed, and therefore both the malpractice claim and tort claim should be dismissed with prejudice.

         Subsequently, Christus Health Central moved for summary judgment on the question of whether Ms. Lyons' claim fell within the scope of the Act, as Christus St. Joseph's Home Assisted Living Center is not a "health care provider" as defined by the MMA, and does not provide "health care" to its residents. Defendant filed a cross-motion on the same issue.

         Following a hearing, the district court granted Christus Health Central's motion, denied Ms. Lyons' cross-motion, and rendered summary judgment dismissing the MRP proceeding. This appeal followed.

         APPLICABLE LAW

         We review the grant of a motion for summary judgment de novo using the same criteria as the district court. Rodgers v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins., 2015-0868 (La. 6/30/15), 168 So.3d 375.

         The MMA was enacted by the Louisiana Legislature in response to a "perceived medical malpractice insurance 'crisis'." Dupuy v. NMC Oper. Co., L.L.C., 2015-1754 (La. 3/15/16), 187 So.3d 436; Williamson v. Hospital Serv. Dist. No.1 of Jefferson, 04-0451, p.4 (La. 12/1/04), 888 So.2d 782, 785. The legislative intent was to reduce or stabilize medical malpractice insurance rates and to assure the availability of affordable medical services to the public. Id. Toward this end, "the MMA gives qualified health care providers two advantages in actions against them for malpractice, namely, a limit on the amount of damages and the requirement that the claim first be reviewed by a medical review panel before commencing suit in a court of law." Id. at 439.

         In view of these advantages, we note the unusual position taken by the defendant notwithstanding certification by the PCF that it is a qualified health care provider ("QHCP"), by arguing that it is not a "health care provider" under the Act with regard to the St. Joseph's Home Assisted Living facility. Nor, it argues, did it provide "health care" to Ms. Lyons that resulted in her injuries. It maintains that the plaintiff must therefore bring her action in district court as an ordinary negligence claim subject to one-year liberative prescription; because that claim has now prescribed, it should be dismissed with prejudice.

         The MMA and its limitations on tort liability for QHCPs apply strictly to claims "arising from medical malpractice, " and all other tort liability on the part of the QHCP is governed by general tort law. Dupuy, supra. Because the limitation on liability the MMA gives to qualified health care providers is in derogation of the rights of tort victims, the Act is strictly construed. Id.

         "Malpractice" is defined under the MMA in pertinent part as "any unintentional tort or any breach of contract based on health care or professional services rendered, or which should have been rendered, by a health care provider, to a patient, including failure to render services timely and the handling of a patient, including loading and unloading of a patient." La. R.S. 40:1231.1(A)(9); White v. ...


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