Wyatt v. Vanguard Health Systems, Inc. – 6/30/2014

July 30, 2014

Arizona Supreme Court Holds That the Adult Protective Services Act Applies to Acute Care Hospitals.

he estates of Helen Wyatt and Karl Kuhfuss Jr. filed separate wrongful death actions against two acute care hospitals, Phoenix Baptist Hospital and John C. Lincoln Hospital, alleging violations of the Adult Protective Services Act (“APSA”).  In each case, the trial court granted partial summary judgment, ruling that the APSA does not apply to acute care hospitals.  Each estate appealed.  The court of appeals consolidated the cases and reversed the judgments, finding the statutory terms ambiguous and concluding that the APSA does apply to acute care hospitals.  The Arizona Supreme Court granted review.

The APSA provides that “[a] vulnerable adult whose life or health is being or has been endangered or injured by neglect, abuse or exploitation may file an action in superior court against any person or enterprise that has been employed to provide care . . . to such vulnerable adult for having caused or permitted such conduct.”  A.R.S. § 46-455(B).  Although the APSA does not define the term “care,” it is ordinarily understood to mean responsibility for or attention to safety and well-being.  Because acute care hospitals provide care to vulnerable adults and are not expressly exempted by the statutory language of the APSA, the Arizona Supreme Court concluded that they may be liable under the APSA.  The Court vacated the opinion of the court of appeals and remanded the cases to the superior court for further proceedings.

Chief Justice Berch authored the unanimous opinion.