Calif. Court: Caregivers Injured by Alzheimer’s Patients Cannot Sue

A new ruling from the California Supreme Court says home health workers hired to care for Alzheimer’s patients may not sue them or their families for injuries caused by those patients.

In the 5-2 ruling the court says, “California and other jurisdictions have established the rule that Alzheimer‘s patients are not liable for injuries to caregivers in institutional settings. We conclude that the same rule applies to in-home caregivers who, like their institutional counterparts, are employed specifically to assist these disabled persons.”

The court notes that workers know the risk when working with this population, and the ruling does not apply to caregivers who are not warned of a known risk or are injured on the job unrelated to symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

“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 says.

The ruling follows a case filed by a home healthcare worker against a West Los Angeles couple. In 2005, defendant Bernard Cott contracted with a home health care agency to assist with his 85-year-old wife and codefendant Lorraine Cott, who had Alzheimer‘s disease.

The agency assigned plaintiff Carolyn Gregory to work in the Cotts‘ home.

Gregory was aware of the risks of working with Alzheimer’s disease patients, the court says, noting the facts of the case are not disputed. 

In September 2008, Gregory was washing dishes while Lorraine Cott sat at the kitchen table. Gregory was injured when, while washing a large knife, Lorraine Cott approached her from behind, bumped into her, and reached toward the sink.

“When Gregory attempted to restrain Lorraine, she dropped the knife, which struck her wrist,” the court says. “As a result, Gregory lost feeling in several fingers and experienced recurring pain.”

Gregory has received workers’ compensation, and also sued the Cotts for negligence and premises liability, with a claim against Lorraine Cott for battery. 

The California Supreme Court’s recent ruling affirms a divided Court of Appeal’s judgement that Gregory‘s claims were barred by the primary assumption of risk doctrine.

Read the California Supreme Court’s final opinion on the case here.  

Written by Cassandra Dowell