Can a hired caregiver who is injured while taking care of your loved one sue you? The possible legal concerns at stake for senior citizens, their families, and in-home carers working professionally are highlighted by a 2014 California court case.

Carolyn Gregory, a caregiver, didn’t understand her job may endanger her health when she started working at Bernard and Lorraine Cott’s house. Gregory’s line of work placed her in the same occupational danger category as firefighters, police officers, lifeguards, and veterinarians, according to the state of California, however.

Gregory was employed by a home care company to look for Lorraine Cott, 85, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Gregory’s wrist was cut with a kitchen knife during a 2008 altercation with Mrs Cott. She has subsequently lost sensation in many of her fingers as a consequence of the accident, and she continues to suffer discomfort.

Gregory sued the Cotts for her injuries, but in the process, she had a life-changing realization regarding her true work position. The home care firm she worked for was covered by workers’ compensation insurance, thus the California Supreme Court concluded that she was not entitled to further pay.

The Situation

The majority of the judges on the Court chose to accept the legal justifications put out by the attorneys for Bernard and Lorraine Cott. They were attempting to stop Gregory from pursuing what personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys refer to as “a third party claim,” which enables the injured party to seek damages in excess of the little sum covered by workers’ compensation insurance.

The “third parties” in the employment contract between Gregory and her home health care service were Mr and Mrs Cott. The Cotts’ winning argument rested on the fact that their caretaker understood the risks she was taking on, just as firefighters, police officers, veterinarians, and lifeguards are aware of these risks while working. When these employees report for work each day, they accept responsibility for the possibility of harm or death.

Gregory was informed by Mr Cott that his wife Lorraine “would bite, kick, scrape, and flail in a belligerent manner.

Gregory was responsible for overseeing, dressing, bathing, and transporting Lorraine, as well as doing some light housework.

Gregory washed a big knife in the kitchen sink on the day Mr Cott wasn’t home. “Lorraine” approached her from behind, ran into her, and grabbed for the sink, according to the Supreme Court’s ruling. Gregory then attempted to detain Lorraine, but she dropped the knife and cut her wrist as a result.

Why the Cotts weren’t found to be responsible

The Cotts prevailed because of the caregiver and client’s openness and honesty. She wasn’t directly told that Lorraine may approach her from behind while she was cleaning dishes, according to Gregory.

There was no charge of deceit by Mr Cott, despite the fact that defendants who falsely represent or conceal a dangerous situation are liable to responsibility. “That he told her about Lorraine’s aggressive inclinations,” Gregory acknowledged. The Court came to the conclusion that it is unreasonable to expect the family of an Alzheimer’s patient to “predict every variation of circumstances in which a revealed risk could occur.”

Gregory said that since “the home setting lacks the specialized equipment and skilled health care experts seen in institutions,” home healthcare workers should not be forced to presume they are at risk for this kind of damage.

The judges, however, were unconvinced that she was any different from other healthcare professionals who work for organizations like skilled nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The purpose of hiring caregivers is to prevent patients from hurting themselves or others. The specific risk of damage that resulted in the injury was one of the hazards the caregiver was recruited to avert if a patient hurts them by participating in aggressive conduct typical of Alzheimer’s disease.

The judges noted that Gregory worked as a caregiver for elderly people with Alzheimer’s illness despite the fact that she was not a nurse or doctor. “We do not believe that everyone who assists with such people accepts the risk of damage,” they said in their conclusion. The regulation we establish is only applicable to professionals who have received training from and are employed by an organization.

Lessons to be Learned and Consequences for Families Using Professional Caregivers

Those who engage home health care providers and pay them cash under the table without workers’ compensation insurance should be alarmed by this case. In this instance, Carolyn Gregory’s employer, a home healthcare firm, offered workers’ compensation insurance, and she was qualified to collect these benefits.

So what happens if a contracted caregiver suffers a major injury and is uninsured? Without such protection, the effects can be much more disastrous for the family and the caregiver.

Since the level of training that home health care providers provide their employees is closely examined when accidents and injuries happen, this case also brings attention to the industry. One judge said Gregory should have had her day in court to demonstrate that the home health service didn’t appropriately educate her, and he disagreed with how this California case was resolved. In his dissenting judgment, Judge Rubin writes that “her training consisted of viewing a film and visiting a nursing home with Alzheimer’s patients.” She had never held a job at a hospital or nursing home. She had no nursing or nurse’s aide qualification, had only ever worked in single-family homes, and had never been directly supervised by a licensed nurse or another healthcare provider. Although she was employed by the Cotts, there was no oversight from a qualified nurse or another medical expert.

The only judge who dissented noted that the assumption of risk provision “is confined to professional home health care workers who are trained and hired by an agency in the majority of other states.

Gregory should have been entitled to appear before a jury if families who engage home care workers “must prove that a home health caregiver obtained proper training before the main assumption of risk is triggered.

Even though Gregory had accepted the danger of harm, another judge on the Court questioned how “low-paid home health care workers [can] obtain appropriate protection” against life-threatening harm. According to Judge Liu, it is “probable that some home carers may experience job dangers without proper compensation.”

He emphasized that unlike police officers or firemen, home care providers don’t have the same negotiating strength. Employers in other professions often wind up “raising the salary or expanding benefits like insurance when they move the risk of damage onto the shoulders of employees. Yet given the “neediness and low negotiating strength of these employees,” that is not likely to happen in-home care.

In the end, the justices of the California Supreme Court argued that they had to defend the families caring for loved ones at home. “Families would be more inclined to institutionalize Alzheimer’s patients if responsibility were imposed for caregiver injuries in private homes but not in hospitals or nursing facilities.”

While state-specific rules differ, this instance emphasizes the need of exercising caution when choosing in-home caregivers. Like the one the Cotts employed, home care businesses often have licenses, bonds, and insurance as well as workers’ compensation insurance for their caregivers. Moreover, agencies should provide comprehensive training and continuing education programs to their staff. A family is in charge of taking care of all of these details when they engage an independent caregiver who is not connected to an agency. Families put themselves at significant financial and legal risk when the appropriate safeguards aren’t in place.


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