Home healthcare workers hired to assist unruly Alzheimer's patients may not sue their employers for injuries the patient inflicts, the California Supreme Court decided Monday.
In a 5-2 decision, the state's highest court said employers have no liability as long as the caregiver was warned of the risks and the injury was caused by symptoms of the disease. The ruling applies to in-home aides hired through an agency.
"Those hired to manage a hazardous condition may not sue their clients for injuries caused by the very risks they were retained to confront," Justice Carole A. Corrigan wrote for the court.
The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit a healthcare worker filed against Bernard Cott and his wife, Lorraine. Cott hired an agency in 2005 to help care for Lorraine, who was 85 and suffering from Alzheimer's, at their home in Los Angeles County.
The agency assigned Carolyn Gregory to the Cott home. Gregory knew that Lorraine was combative and prone to biting, flailing, kicking and scratching, the court said.
In 2008, Lorraine bumped into Gregory while the worker was washing a knife. While trying to restrain Lorraine, Gregory suffered injuries that left her without feeling in some of her fingers and persistent pain. Gregory obtained worker's compensation and sued the Cotts.
The court called on the Legislature to examine whether new laws are needed to help protect paid caregivers of Alzheimer patients.
"The number of Californians afflicted with this disease can only be expected to grow in coming years," Corrigan wrote. "Training requirements and enhanced insurance benefits for caregivers exposed to the risk of injury are among the subjects worthy of legislative investigation."
Two justices dissented, arguing that in-home carer givers may not always be able to obtain worker's compensation and should be entitled to sue employers for injuries.