We are talking about a case from California, not New York, because it addresses a few important issues. They are not just legal issues, either. The case deals with the mental incapacity of a loved one and the hazards of caring for that person. The story will sound familiar to more than a few New Yorkers who have already faced similar circumstances or who are afraid they will have to in the near future.
The defendants are an elderly couple. In 2005, the husband, working through an agency, hired the plaintiff to help care for his wife; the 85-year-old woman had Alzheimer's disease and could not bathe or dress herself. She also needed constant supervision. While the health care worker was not a nurse, she had worked with Alzheimer's patients before.
The wife's behavior was unpredictable, and, at times, she could be physically combative. The worker was aware of this, and the arrangement seemed to work for all involved for a couple of years.
The case stems from an incident in 2008, when the wife bumped then struggled with the worker. The worker had been washing dishes and had a knife in her hand. As she attempted to control her patient, the knife fell onto the worker's wrist and cut her. Since that time, the workers says, she has no feeling in some of her fingers and is often in pain.
Remember, the worker was hired through an agency, so she filed a workers' compensation claim with her employer. She did receive benefits.
However, noting that she had been injured in the defendants' home by the wife, she also filed a civil claim for negligence and premises liability. From the trial court to the state Supreme Court, her claim failed.
Why? It seems the legal principle of assumption of the risk applies under these circumstances. We'll talk about that more in our next post.
Huffington Post, "Legal Liability for Injuries to a Caregiver Caused by an Alzheimer's Patient," Brad Reid
Gregory v. Cott, 59 Cal.4th 996, 331 P.3d 179 (Cal.,2014), via Westlaw