California Caregivers: Must Know Risks Court Rules

Caregivers for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease must know the risks that come with the job, based on a ruling this month by the California Supreme Court. And knowing there are risks when caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease, seniors no longer need to worry about being liable for injuries they may cause their paid in-home caregivers. The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the senior in the Carolyn Gregory, plaintiff and appellant, vs. Lorraine Cott, defendants and respondents, lawsuit. The decision ruled in favor of the senior, 5 - 2, verifying that the caregiver could not be compensated for damages.

 

This case and ruling provides all of us an opportunity to realize the advantages of working with a professionally licensed senior care company for senior care services.  And to understand the limitations for compensation for events we cannot control when this disease claims someone’s mind and body. Professional senior care companies maintain certain quality standards and provide benefits for caregivers legally hired as employees.

Here is the story:

In September, 2008, Carolyn Gregory, age 54, provided caregiving services for Lorraine Cott, age 88.  She was hired to assist Ms. Cott who had advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Now for the tough part of this story - just want to warn you - while the caregiver was washing dishes, which included a knife, the elder Ms. Cott came up behind her and began reaching toward the sink.  The caregiver tried to restrain her and in the process, the large knife she was washing fell and sliced into her left hand.  This caused the caregiver, Ms. Gregory, to lose sensation in her thumb and two fingers and to experience considerable pain.

The caregiver, Ms. Gregory, sued the senior for compensation for the damages to her hand, even though she did have coverage for the injury through her employer’s worker’s compensation insurance.  She sued for additional money for negligence.  The good news is that the caregiver did work for a senior care agency and had worker’s compensation benefits.  She wanted more compensation and the California Supreme Court denied this because of a legal doctrine referred to as the “primary assumption of risk.” From the California Supreme Court, when announcing their decision:

 

We have noted that the duty to avoid injuring others ―normally extends to 

those engaged in hazardous work.‖ (Neighbarger, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 536.) 

―We have never held that the doctrine of assumption of risk relieves all persons of 

a duty of care to workers engaged in a hazardous occupation.‖ (Id. at p. 538.) 

However, the doctrine does apply in favor of those who hire workers to handle a 

dangerous situation, in both the public and the private sectors. Such a worker, ―as 

a matter of fairness, should not be heard to complain of the negligence that is the 

cause of his or her employment. 

Caring for a senior home care agency client who formerly worked in a bank, we discovered that sometimes, with no prior warning, she apparently thought she was back at the bank counter.  She would swing her arms out from side to side in front of her and we realized, after talking with her family, that this was her way of pretending to count out money.  We found a way to bring her some peace when these moments presented themselves - we gave her a large magazine and guided her to flip through the pages one-by-one until the urge fled away from her.

None of us know what path old age will lead us down.  The road may be smooth, with a sudden end, or bumpy with sharp curves and steep inclines. We just don’t know how our road ends.  But now we know if our mind becomes something we cannot control, we will not be responsible if our actions might hurt a caregiver.

In Alzheimer’s care, caregivers must know what they are confronting.  They must understand that this is a different type of memory loss which progresses at a different speed for each senior. Senior home care agencies, licensed by their state to provide senior care, do provide quality caregiver training and worker’s compensation insurance for caregivers.  This means if a caregiver should have an on-the-job injury, the worker’s compensation insurance provides for the medical care and recovery needs.  This is yet another reason why many states are requiring specific licensing and training requirements for senior home care agencies.

Caregivers working as employees for senior home care agencies receive active care management, training and support when caring for difficult clients.  Sometimes just having someone to vent to enables the caregiver to go back the next day with a fresh attitude and new tools to successfully assist the senior. Alzheimer’s disease delivers so many “moments’ for caregivers  - and remember, family members and professional caregivers often provide care for those with Alzheimer’s disease as it truly is the long goodbye.

I have shared previously that I had the gift of meeting former President Ronald Reagan, after he had Alzheimer’s disease.  He thought he knew me and I played along and winked at him.  I was having brunch at the “leftover tables off the breezeway” at a Santa Monica restaurant because I didn’t make reservations and had a former co-worker who was kind enough to give me a lift to the airport. However, she drove an old convertible car that didn’t have a big enough trunk for my suitcases.  Since we had already convinced the valet guy to just leave the car in the circle driveway, to keep an eye on it, we begged for a table and they told us they didn't normally seat people in this area but if we really wanted a table we could have it.

Funny how coincidences work out sometimes……..and then the former President came in and was seated with his nurse and two Secret Service agents, at the table next to us. I was so busy talking with my friend that I honestly did not notice them come in and sit down.  It was only after the waitress came in and served them a platter of fruit and said, in a really loud voice, while talking slowly, “here you go, enjoy your fruit”, that my friend said, she is talking to them like they are in an old folk’s home.

That is when I looked up and realized who he was, and apparently because of the surprise on my face, he thought he knew me.  He waved at me and then leaned over and told the nurse something and pointed at me.  That is when I winked to let them know I knew what was going on and everything was cool.  And I also held back tears.

We are all the same when it comes to old age.  A president was seated in the leftover area, with Ishtar and I, because we had no reservations, and an old car without a real trunk. His road to the end was 10 years long!  He was going for a walk on the beach each morning with his nurse and two Secret Service agents. And when it was time to go, just like my own grandfather, he did not want to get up and leave.  The agents (kind of cool to say that) told us that they never knew how long it would take before he would be ready. Even a former president would misbehave when it came to Alzheimer's disease and now in California, families and caregivers must be aware of the risks. President Reagan had senior caregivers for 10 years........a reminder for all of us to plan ahead for senior care.

 

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Former President Ronald Reagan  

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