Home healthcare workers have some of the toughest jobs, and they are faced with some of the most difficult, even dangerous patients. Unfortunately, these employees do not have very many protections. The California Supreme Court ruled in August 2014 that Alzheimer’s patients and their families cannot be held liable for injuries patients cause to home healthcare workers if the employees were warned of the risks and if the injuries were caused by symptoms of the disease.
According to the California Supreme Court, the legal doctrine of assumption of risk bars recovery. Agitation and physical aggression are common late-stage symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and injuries to caregivers are not unusual. The court stated that home healthcare workers know this, and therefore assume the risks associated with their job.
California and other jurisdictions already had a rule that Alzheimer‘s patients are not liable for injuries to caregivers in institutional settings. This new decision will expand that rule to in-home caregivers.
One of the reasons the Court expanded this rule to healthcare workers that work in private homes is because if they did not, family members of Alzheimer’s patients would have an incentive to institutionalize them.
The court suggested that the legislature should look at this issue and possibly should consider training requirements and enhanced insurance benefits for caregivers exposed to the risk of injury.
The decision is very limited, applying to specifically healthcare workers employed and trained by an agency. The bottom line is that home health workers hired to care for Alzheimer’s patients cannot sue the patient or their families for injuries inflicted by the patients.
Some fear the ruling may have negative consequences, potentially allowing homeowners to shirk their duties by allowing their homes to become unsafe for those caring for Alzheimer’s patients.