Alzheimers’ Caregivers Can’t Sue for Injuries

California law already protects Alzheimer’s patents from liability for injury they cause caregivers in institutional settings.  On Monday, the California Supreme Court extended that protection against liability to in-home caregivers injured on the job.

Workers’ compensation, rather than tort recovery, is the appropriate means of compensating hired caregivers for injuries caused by Alzheimer’s patients, Justice Carol Corrigan wrote.

Whether the workers’ comp benefits are sufficient is a question the Legislature may wish to address, she said.

Justice Goodwin Liu, in a separate concurring opinion, echoed that sentiment said it is difficult to ignore the compelling public policy interest in ensuring that low-paid home health care workers receive adequate protection.

The median wage of home health aides in California was $23,267 in 2014, he said.  It is likely that some caregivers will face workplace hazards without adequate compensation, he said.,

Physical aggression and agitation are common in late-stage symptoms of Alzheimers, so California and other states have said patients are not liable for injuries to caregivers working in institutions.

“We conclude that the same rule applies to in-home caregivers,” the high court ruled in a 5-2 decision.

“It is a settled principle that those hired to manage a hazardous condition may not sue their clients for injuries caused by the very risks they were retained to confront,” the court said.

Extending this exemption to in-home caregivers is also consistent with the strong public policy against confining the disabled to institutions, according to Corrigan.

In this case, Bernard Cott contracted with an agency in 2005 that promised to provide him an aide trained to manage his wife’s condition.  By doing so, he paid to be relieved of a duty to protect the aide from the risks of injury, according to the court.

The agency provided Carolyn Gregory to care for his wife Lorraine.  Gregory had been trained to care for Alzheimer’s patients and knew they could be violent.

While Gregory was washing dishes, she held a large knife at the same time Lorraine approached her from behind.  Lorraine reached for the sink, Gregory attempted to restrain her and dropped the knife, which struck her wrist and as a result she lost feeling in several fingers.

She received workers’ compensation but also sued the Cotts for negligence and premises liability and battery.

Case:  Gregory v. Cott, No. S209125



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