Delgado ex rel. Estate of Shaw v. Manor Care of Tucson, AZ, LLC – 6/28/2016

July 18, 2016

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that the failure to seek medical care for vulnerable adult’s acute medical condition can support a claim of abuse or neglect under the Arizona Adult Protective Services Act.

After receiving treatment at a hospital an elderly patient was transferred to a care facility with numerous physical and mental health problems.  While in the care facility, her health fluctuated and within two months she developed sepsis and died.  A doctor noted that although sepsis was the immediate cause of death, the sepsis was due to or in consequence of several of her preexisting medical conditions.

The patient’s estate sued under the Arizona Adult Protective Services Act (“APSA”), A.R.S. §§ 46-451 through 46-459 which protects vulnerable adults who are injured by neglect or abuse from a caregiver.  The negligent acts in a claim under the APSA must arise from and be closely connected to a caregiving relationship.  The negligence must also be linked to the service undertaken based on the recipient’s incapacity and be related to the problem that caused the incapacity.  The care facility, in this case, moved for and obtained summary judgment by arguing that the sepsis was unrelated to the patient’s incapacity. 

The court of appeals held that APSA is not intended to cover negligence that would injure anyone but rather negligence which relates to the responsibility of caring for an incapacitated person who cannot protect him or herself.  The negligent acts must affect the victim by virtue of his or her incapacity.  A care provider can be liable under APSA if its failure to seek additional medical care is related to the problems caused by the patient’s incapacity.  When incapacity causes a vulnerable patient to rely upon caregivers to seek out and provide medical care, failure to do so can violate APSA.

Presiding Judge Howard authored the opinion; Judges Espinosa and Staring concurred.