Caregivers typically work with clients who, as a result of age or disability, cannot completely care for themselves. The work ranges from providing companionship to assisting someone with all their activities of daily living, such as feed, dressing, bathing, etc. A client with Alzheimer’s or dementia can be particularly difficult depending on how the condition effects the client. Sometimes, Alzheimer’s clients can put themselves and others in danger. What happens if the caregiver is injured as a result of the client’s actions?
California and other jurisdictions previously held that Alzheimer’s patients are not liable for injuries to caregivers in institutional settings. In a recent case, Gregory v. Scott, the court had to determine whether a patient suffering from Alzheimer’s disease are liable for injuries they inflict on health care workers hired to care for them at home. The court noted that agitation and physical aggression are common late-stage symptoms of the disease, and injuries to caregivers are not unusual. Because the caregiver was employed specifically to assist a client who suffered from Alzheimer’s and the caregiver knew of the client’s propensity for aggressive behavior, the court applied the rule 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 reasoned that if liability were imposed for caregiver injuries in private homes, but not in hospitals or nursing homes, the incentive for families to institutionalize Alzheimer’s sufferers would increase.
The court was quick to point out that its holding “does not preclude liability in situations where caregivers are not warned of a known risk, where defendants otherwise increase the level of risk beyond that inherent in providing care, or where the cause of injury is unrelated to the symptoms of the disease.” Additionally, the caregiver was covered under California’s Workers’ Compensation program, but the caregiver could not sue the patient, or his family, in court.
As an aside, the court pointed out that the number of Californians afflicted with Alzheimer’s can only be expected to grow in coming years, and encouraged the Legislature to focus its attention on the problems associated with Alzheimer’s caregiving.
If you employ persons to provide care to Alzheimer’s patients, it is important to educate your employees so they understand the risks inherent in the position, and to provide them the tools so they can safely care for the client. If you are a caregiver, it is equally important to understand how to care for persons with Alzheimer’s and how to protect yourself, your client and others.
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