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Can a caregiver sue for on-the-job injury?

August 8, 2014
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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People with Alzheimer's disease cannot be held liable for harming home health workers caring for them, so such caregivers injured while working are limited to workers' compensation benefits, according to a ruling by the California Supreme Court.

The case before the state justices, decided Monday, involved a home health worker, Carolyn Gregory, who began caring for 85-year-old Lorraine Cott in Cott's West Los Angeles home in 2005. In addition to providing care, Gregory also assisted with some housekeeping tasks as well as bathing, dressing and transporting Cott.

Gregory filed a lawsuit against Cott and her husband, Bernard, after Lorraine Cott allegedly bumped Gregory from behind as the caregiver washed dishes in 2008. Gregory said she was cut by a knife when she subsequently attempted to restrain Lorraine Cott and reported losing feeling in a thumb and two fingers as well as experiencing pain in her wrist and hand.

The court came to its 5-2 decision that employers—in this case, the Cotts—have no liability in such instances as long as the caregivers are warned of the risks of their work and as long as any resulting injuries are related to the disease of the person for whom they are caring. Gregory was told that Cott could behave violently, they said. Further, the justices noted that the state holds that people who have Alzheimer's disease and live in institutional settings are not laible for injuring their caregivers, so the same rule must apply in home health settings.

The court said that the state legislature could pass new laws specifying training and insurance requirements to protect home health workers in similar instances in the future.