Drunk Care Aide Lawsuit Puts Spotlight on Background Checks

Damages caused by a drunk home health care aide are raising questions about the length to which one home health agency vets new hires.

The aide allegedly “crashed through a garage door to take her elderly charge’s car on a drunken joy ride to another state,”  Courthouse News Service (CNS) reports.

Martha Howard, 77, sued home care franchisee Visiting Angels, its owner Jeanne O’Neale, Brown O’Neale Inc. dba Visiting Angels, and the aide, Linda Joy Miller, on March 17 in Humboldt County Court, in Eureka, Calif., according to CNS. 


“Howard says that had O’Neale and Visiting Angels done a sufficient background check they would have found that Miller was a high risk ‘caregiver,’” the news service says. Howard claims the defendants “knew that their claims of ‘extensive background and reference checks’ were false, overblown, inaccurate and misleading, and also knew that very vulnerable, elderly clients would be easily misled by said claims.”

Howard was 75 when she went to Visiting Angels seeking a nonmedical aide to be there for her seven nights while she was bedridden after surgery. She now seeks damages for negligence, emotional distress and misrepresentation.

Miller allegedly stole Howard’s car on her fifth night of work, and drove the car into the home’s garage door and outside of the garage. The sound of the car crashing through the garage door allegedly awoke Howard, which caused her to be “alarmed and frightened,” Courthouse News Service says.


Miller drove off “in a drunken state after having become inebriated during her shift following unauthorized consumption of alcohol taken, plaintiff believes, from plaintiff’s liquor cabinet,” CNS says.

Miller was arrested for drunk driving 130 miles away from the home, in Brookings, Ore., and was convicted for driving a vehicle under the influence and felony use of a vehicle.

Following the incident, Visiting Angels allegedly refused to refund Howard’s $3,080 payment, though it “provided no services for the two remaining evenings left on the contract because plaintiff failed to give the required 48-hour notice,” according to the complaint, as reported by Courthouse News Service.

Howard seeks compensation for damage to her garage door, retrieval of her car from Oregon, therapy for severe anxiety, damages for emotional distress damages, punitive damages and court costs, according to the news service.

Each Visiting Angels agency is a franchise that is independently owned and operated. The franchisor, Living Assistance Services Inc., does not control or manage the day to day business operations of any Visiting Angels franchised agency, according to Visiting Angels’ website. Living Assistance Services did not respond to request for comment by the time of publication.

Written by Cassandra Dowell

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