|The California Supreme Court has ruled that a home health aide may not sue a client with Alzheimer’s disease for an injury incurred on the job. The case is one of the first in the nation to assess legal remedies available to paid caregivers who work with Alzheimer’s patients at home.|
The facts: In September 2008, Carolyn Gregory, 54, was washing dishes in the home of Lorraine Cott, an 88-year-old woman with advanced Alzheimer’s. Without warning, Ms. Cott came up behind Ms. Gregory, knocked into her and began reaching toward the sink. As the caregiver struggled to restrain the older woman, a large knife Ms. Gregory was washing fell and sliced into her left hand. Ms. Gregory subsequently lost sensation in her thumb and two fingers and experienced considerable pain.
Since Ms. Gregory was employed by a home health agency, she was entitled to redress for the injury under the agency’s workers’ compensation policy. The question at issue was whether she could sue Mr. and Mrs. Cott (both died last year) for negligence as well.
In a 5-to-2 ruling, the California Supreme Court said the caregiver could not, citing a legal doctrine known as the “primary assumption of risk.” That principle holds that workers who perform jobs they know to be dangerous — firefighters and police officers are primary examples — cannot seek recompense from clients when bad things happen, as might be expected, on the job.
“Those hired to manage a...