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Calif. high court denies home health worker who sued Alzheimer's patient

Calif. high court denies home health worker who sued Alzheimer's patient

A home health care worker injured by a patient with Alzheimer's disease is limited to workers compensation benefits, as patients with Alzheimer's aren't liable for injuring caregivers, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

Carolyn Gregory was assigned by a home health care agency in 2005 to work in Bernard Cott's home caring for his wife, Lorraine, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, court records show.

Ms. Gregory, who was trained to care for Alzheimer's patients, was responsible for supervising, bathing, dressing and transporting Ms. Cott, and some housekeeping, according to records.

She was washing a large knife at the Cott's sink In September 2008 when Ms. Cott bumped into her from behind, records show. The knife struck Ms. Gregory's wrist causing her to lose feeling in several fingers and experience recurring pain. Mr. Cott was not home at the time of the accident.

Records show that Ms. Gregory, who received workers comp benefits, sued Mr. and Ms. Cott for negligence and premises liability, in addition to filing a claim against Lorraine for battery.

In a 5-2 decision, the California Supreme Court on Monday affirmed the judgment of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, ruling that Ms. Gregory is limited to workers comp benefits, as patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease are not liable for the injuries they inflict on home health care workers.

“California and other jurisdictions have established the rule that Alzheimer's patients are not liable for injuries to caregivers in institutional settings,” the ruling states. “We conclude that the same rule applies to in-home caregivers who, like their institutional counterparts, are employed specifically to assist these disabled persons.”

Ms. Gregory argued that in-home caregivers “face higher risks” and don't have access to the specialized equipment and trained health care professionals found in institutions, records show. However, according to the Supreme Court, “the risk of violent injury is inherent in the occupation of caring for Alzheimer's patients.”

“While many such patients never become violent, it is equally true that not all fires injure firefighters, and not all dogs bite veterinarians,” the ruling states. “Nevertheless, because the risk of injury from those causes is inherent in the occupations of firefighters and veterinarians, it is settled that no duty is owed to protect them from the very dangers they are hired to confront.”

Despite the fact that Ms. Gregory said she was injured while washing dishes and not caring for Ms. Cott, she “worked for a home health care agency, not a housekeeping service,” and so the assumed risk still applies, the ruling states.

According to the dissenting justices, “the fact an occupation involves some peripheral risks of injury does not in itself justify application of primary assumption of risk to all workers or trainees in that occupation.”

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