Plaintiffs in two separate actions filed suit against two different acute care hospitals, Phoenix Baptist Hospital and Lincoln Hospital Deer Valley. Both complaints asserted claims under the Adult Protective Services Act (APSA), A.R.S. §§ 46-455 to -456. In both cases, the trial courts each granted summary judgment for the hospitals, holding that APSA did not apply to acute care hospitals. The plaintiffs in both cases appealed. Because both cases involved the same issue, the court of appeals consolidated the cases on appeal.
The court of appeals reversed and remanded, holding that APSA applies to acute care hospitals. The section of APSA at issue in the case, A.R.S. § 46-455 confers a cause of action against “any person or enterprise that has been employed to provide care.” The court explained that this section “was designed to create a cause of action for a vulnerable individual who was injured as a result of abuse, neglect or exploitation.” The hospitals argued that the words “care” and “provide care” in the statute were ambiguous, that the court should therefore look to legislative history to construe the meaning, and that the legislature did not intend the statue to apply to acute care hospitals. Citing State v. Jones, 188 Ariz. 388, 392, 937 P.2d 310, 314 (1997), which quoted the Webster’s Third New International Dictionary definition of the word “care,” the court found that the term was unambiguous and that under the ordinary meaning of the word “care,” both hospitals had provided care within the meaning of the statute. The court also rejected the hospitals’ argument that the legislature only intended the statute to apply to long-term care facilities explaining that “[h]ad the legislature intended to limit the application of APSA to certain types of facilities, such as adult long-term health care facilities, it could have easily done so in its definition of ‘enterprise,’” but that the legislature instead broadly defined the term. The court also rejected Phoenix Baptist Hospital’s argument that adopting the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the term “care” would make the scope of liability overly broad because the statute does not make negligence actionable under APSA unless a plaintiff can show “a pattern of conduct . . . resulting in deprivation of food, water, medication, medical services, shelter, cooling, heating or other services necessary to maintain minimum physical or mental health.” A.R.S. § 46-451.A.6. (Supp. 2012).
Judge Orozco authored the opinion. Judges Swann and Winthrop concurred.
Posted by: James Rogers