California Supreme Court Finds That Caregiver Assumes Risks with Dementia Patients
The Supreme Court of California issued a very detailed ruling on the rights of health care workers who are injured in caring for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In its ruling, the court held that health care workers employed to care for individuals with dementia assume the risk of injury caused by their clients who suffer from a disease that manifests itself in agitation and physical aggression. The case is the first known of its kind in the nation, and it extends a fairly well-settled principle “that those hired to a hazardous condition may not sue their clients for injuries caused by the very risks they were retained to confront.”
In Gregory v. Cott, the California Supreme Court addressed the claims brought by a personal care worker employed by a home care agency against one of her clients and the client’s spouse. The worker sought damages for injuries caused the client when the client bumped into the worker as she was engaged in housekeeping tasks. Specifically, the worker lost control of a knife when she was bumped, the knife injured her hand, and she ended up with a series of injuries from the knife wound. The worker received protections under the agency’s worker compensation coverage, but also sued the client for damages.
The court applied a principle of law known as primary assumption of risk to reject the worker’s claims. Under that principle, there is no duty breached by a party when an injury occurs in a hazardous situation where risks are inherent in the nature of the employment. The court reviewed earlier cases throughout the nation where the principle was applied to firefighters, veterinarians, and health care workers in an institutional setting.
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