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FLORA, Ind. -- An Indiana court ruling allowing an injured nursing home worker to sue a patient who kicked her is not expected to create new liabilities for employers in the state.
The Court of Appeals ruling clears the way for the worker to sue an Alzheimer's patient for damages in addition to the workers compensation benefits she received from her employer.
"I don't see it doing anything to existing workers compensation laws," said Lawrence Cistrelli, director of risk management at Ball State University and society director of the Indiana chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. "It is not something for us to worry about," he said.
In 1995, Carol Creasy, a certified nursing assistant at Brethren Healthcare Center in Flora, Ind., was hurt when she tried to put Alzheimer's patient Lloyd Rusk to bed. Mr. Rusk kicked her, permanently injuring her left knee and back, as well as causing her mental anguish and impairment of earning capacity, according to the complaint that Ms. Creasy filed.
Ms. Creasy collected $335.02 every two weeks from June 1995 through February 1996 in workers comp payments.
However, her attorney, Ronald Todd of Bayliff, Harrigan, Cord & Maugans in Kokomo, Ind., said that these amounts "did not pay very well for the injuries and medical treatment she had."
Ms. Creasy then sued Mr. Rusk, arguing he was liable for her injuries. Such damages would be covered by his homeowners insurance, Mr. Todd noted.
But the Carroll Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit, arguing that Mr. Rusk was "unable to appreciate the consequences of his acts" and that Ms. Creasy "incurred the risk of her injuries and damages."
On June 29, however, the state Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The court ruled that the degree of Mr. Rusk's impairment and Ms. Creasy's awareness of the risks were subject to debate and, therefore, the existence of a legal duty would have to be decided in court.
The appellate ruling is expected to be appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Mr. Cistrelli of Ball State said he was not concerned about the court's decision, since it did not challenge the status of workers comp as the exclusive remedy for an injured employee to be compensated by an employer.
Only "if they developed a new view that allowed employees to sue employers outside of workers comp, all risk managers would be a bit concerned," he said.
If a jury awards damages to Ms. Creasy, the nursing home cannot be held liable by Mr. Rusk, experts say. There is no legal basis, such as breach of contract, for that, said both Mr. Cistrelli and Stephen Wheeler of Jennings, Taylor, Wheeler & Bouwkamp in Carmel, Ind., who represented Mr. Rusk.