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Torts: Elements of Abuse of Vulnerable Adult Claim

Posted by Ted A. Schmidt | Jul 05, 2017 | 0 Comments

Delgado v. Manor Care of Tucson,  767 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 47 (June 20, 2017)(J. Gould)


Plaintiff's decedent died of sepsis under the care of the defendant doctor in the defendant nursing home. Plaintiffs' sued defendants alleging various claims including neglect and abuse under the

Adult Protective Services Act [APSA], A.R.S. §§46-451 through -459. The defendants motion for summary judgment was granted by the superior court  finding that the cause of decedent's death was not related to the condition that incapacitated her requiring her admission to the nursing home in the first place.  The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed finding there was a question of fact on this point. The Arizona Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals decision and  reversed and remanded the superior court.

Fifteen years ago the supreme court announced a four part test defining when the APSA applied.  Estate of McGill ex rel. McGill v. Albrecht, 203 Ariz. 525, 530 (2002): The alleged negligent act or acts

(1) must arise from the relationship of caregiver and recipient,

(2) must be closely connected to that relationship,

(3) must be linked to the service the caregiver undertook because of the recipient's incapacity, and

(4) must be related to the problem or problems that caused the incapacity.

The test was designed, at least in part, to avoid overlap between the APSA and the Medical Malpractice Act [MMA]. A.R.S. §12-561 through -573.  In practice, however,  this test has not worked well or been easy to apply. In retrospect the supreme court now overrules Estate of McGill, finding the third and fourth prongs of the test are not called for by the statute. In so doing the court expressly acknowledged that significant overlap between the APSA and the MMA will exist under this new holding. That said, it is for the legislature to determine to what extent such overlap should be permitted.

In this regard, the defendants argued that since the legislature has amended the APSA several times since 2002 it has tacitly acknowledged its approval of the holding in Estate of McGill. In response the supreme court found  the doctrine of legislative acquiescence "is limited to instances in which the legislature has considered and declined to reject the relevant judicial interpretation.” 

Consequently the supreme court held that an APSA claim requires only proof that: “(1) a vulnerable adult, (2) has suffered an injury, (3) caused by abuse, (4) from a caregiver.”

About the Author

Ted A. Schmidt

Ted's early career as a trial attorney began on the other side of the fence, in the offices of a major insurance defense firm. It was there that Ted acquired the experience, the skills and the special insight into defense strategy that have served him so well in the field of personal injury law. Notable among his successful verdicts was the landmark Sparks vs. Republic National Life Insurance Company case, a $4.5 million award to Ted's client. To this day, it is the defining case for insurance bad faith, and yet it is only one of several other multi-million dollar jury judgments won by Ted during his career. He is certified by the State Bar of Arizona as a specialist in "wrongful death and bodily injury litigation".


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