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California Supreme Court delivers premises liability ruling

Most people get into healthcare because they want to help others. This is as true of in-home aides as it is of doctors and nurses. Unfortunately, there are risks associated with any healthcare job, and sometimes these risks come from the very patients workers are trying to help.

A good example is a premises liability case that was recently decided by the California Supreme Court. The case concerned an in-home healthcare worker who was attacked and injured by a patient with Alzheimer’s disease. The Court held that the worker (and others in her situation) cannot sue the patient and the patient’s husband for premises liability, battery and negligence.

The Court’s 5-2 ruling made some important points. It is already the case that California courts don’t impose liability for injuries like this in institutional settings (such as nursing homes). Therefore, it would be incongruous to treat in-home caregivers under a different standard as long as their injuries arose from the symptoms of the patient’s disease and as long as they were warned of the risks.

The Court also cited the principle of assumption of risk. Certain jobs come with risks that are inherent or obvious (firefighters, for example). As such, the majority ruled, “those hired to manage a hazardous condition may not sue their clients for injuries caused by the very risks they were retained to confront.” The Court determined that “the risk of violent injury is inherent in the occupation of caring for Alzheimer’s patients.”

This case is complicated because it deals with a difficult and contentious issue. Specifically, it asks courts to decide if and to what extent a mentally incapacitated individual can be held liable for his or her actions, even if they are “intentional” and violent. Most premises liability cases are more straightforward.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Legal Liability for Injuries to a Caregiver Caused by an Alzheimer’s Patient,” Brad Reid, Aug. 15, 2014

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