(Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 7, B233759)
This case involves the application of Code of Civil Procedure section 425.13 which establishes a procedural safeguard for punitive damages allegations in any action for damages arising out of the professional negligence of a health care provider. Section 425.13 serves to shelter defendants in such actions from the need to defend against non-meritorious punitive damages claims and prohibits the routine inclusion of sham punitive damage claims in medical malpractice actions. This case arises from injuries allegedly incurred as a result of a delayed MRI in which plaintiff claimed punitive damages because defendants allegedly acted with malice, oppression or fraud. The defendants moved to strike the claim for punitive damages on the ground that the plaintiff failed to comply with section 425.13 which prohibits punitive damage claims in medical malpractice actions without first obtaining leave of court. The Court of Appeal denied a writ petition to review the trial court's denial of the motion to strike and defendants petitioned the Supreme Court for review. CMA's AC Committee filed a letter requesting the Supreme Court to grant review stressing the importance of this procedural safeguard. On August 10, 2011, the California Supreme Court granted the petition for review and transferred the case back to the Court of Appeal with directions to vacate its order denying the writ petition and to issue an order directing the superior court to show cause as to why the relief sought in the petition should not be granted. On October 7, 2011, CMA filed an amicus brief arguing that plaintiffs should be prohibited from circumventing the statutory protections afforded to healthcare providers under section 425.13. The brief pointed out how healthcare providers are particularly susceptible to meritless claims for punitive damages and the harmful and drastic effects of having to defend such claims. CMA reiterated these points to the Court of Appeal when it participated in oral argument on February 6, 2012. On February 15, 2012, the Court of Appeal issued its published opinion concluding the plaintiffs did not have to comply with section 425.13 because the statute does not apply to plaintiffs’ claims against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and because plaintiffs have dismissed their punitive damages claims against the health care provider defendants. Kaiser's petition for review before the California Supreme Court was denied on April 25, 2012.
CMA Letter in Support of Petition for Review filed: 7/29/11
CMA Amicus Letter filed: 10/7/11
Court of Appeal Opinion filed: 2/15/12