Court Says Caregivers Cannot Sue Alzheimer’s Patients

The California Supreme Court ruled that people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are not liable for injuries that they may cause to paid, in-home caregivers. The court ruled in favor of a couple sued by their in-home caregiver when she was hurt by the wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Facts of the Case

In the California case, Gregory v. Cott, the facts were undisputed. In 2005, Bernard Cott hired Ms. Gregory as a paid, in-house nurse to help care for his wife, Lorraine, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Ms. Gregory had worked with other Alzheimer’s patients in the past and was specifically warned that Ms. Cott could be combative by biting, scratching, flailing, and kicking.

In 2008, when Ms. Gregory was washing dishes Ms. Cott came up behind her at the sink and bumped into her. As Ms. Gregory tried to restrain Ms. Cott she dropped the knife that she had been washing, striking her in the wrist, and ultimately causing her to lose feeling in multiple fingers. Ms. Gregory received workers’ compensation for her injuries, but she also sued the Cotts for negligence, premises liability, and battery specifically against Ms. Cott.

The Court’s Ruling

The California Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that people hired to take care of Alzheimer’s patients should know that the disease commonly causes aggression and agitation in later stages. The court concluded that it would therefore be inappropriate to allow in-home caregivers who get hurt while caring for Alzheimer’s patients to sue their employers.

Writing for the majority, Judge Carole Corrigan stated that “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.” However, the two dissenting judges argued that it was unfair to bar private caregivers from suing because of the dangers of their work. They unsuccessfully argued that the families of people suffering from Alzheimer’s should bear the responsibility and “weigh the benefits of in-home care against the costs that it may impose on others.”

The law in California and other states already prohibits caregivers in institutional settings like hospitals and nursing homes from suing Alzheimer’s patients that injure them. The court concluded that by applying a different standard to in-home caregivers the families would only be benefitted financially by putting their loved one in a nursing home.

Effects of the Ruling

The effects of the case in California have far reaching implications across the country. The California Supreme Court case can now be cited by other families of Alzheimer patients who have injured their in-home caregiver and are facing repercussions. With the growing number of seniors and elderly people who are developing symptoms of Alzheimer’s this case serves as protection for those suffering from the disease as well as their families.

However, there are limits on the ruling in the Cott case. It does not preclude future lawsuits by private caregivers who are not warned in advance that the patient could be violent and are injured as a result. In addition, in-home caregivers who are injured by their clients when it is not related to Alzheimer’s disease are also still allowed to file claims for damages.

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