Does in-home caregiver assume the risk of injury caused by the acts of the Alzheimer patient that care was being provided to?
In Gregory v, Cott (filed 8/4/14) 2014 DJDAR 10271, the family of 85-year-old Alzheimer patient Lorraine Cott had contracted with a home health care agency to assist her. The agency assigned its employee, plaintiff Carolyn Gregory, to perform services under this contract. Gregory was trained in caring for Alzheimer's patients, had performed such assignments in the past and knew such patients could be violent. She was specifically informed that Cott was combative and would bite, kick, scratch and flail. Her duties included supervising, bathing, dressing and transporting Cott and performing some housekeeping. On the date in question, Gregory was washing dishes at Cott's home. As she was handling a large knife, Gregory was bumped from behind by Cott who had been seated at the kitchen table. As Gregory attempted to restrain Cott, she dropped the knife, which struck Gregory's wrist injuring her.
In addition to receiving workers compensation, Gregory sued the Cotts as third parties. The trial court found Gregory had assumed the risk of such injury and granted summary adjudication. After the judgment was affirmed by the Court of Appeal, the California Supreme Court granted review, and likewise affirmed.
The Supreme Court started by noting that California has adopted the rule that Alzheimer patients are not liable for injuries to caregivers in an institutional setting. (See Herrle v. Estate of Marshall (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1761.) The state high court extended the rule here to the circumstance of an in-home care-giver because both situations involve a person specifically employed to assist these disabled persons, and those hired to manage a hazardous condition, regardless of location, may not sue their clients for injuries caused by the very risks they were retained to confront.
In its opinion, the court readily dispatches the arguments of Gregory, and amicus counsel, representing care and domestic worker unions. Even though