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CA Supreme Court: Alzheimer’s Patients Cannot Be Sued by Caregivers


The California Supreme Court recently ruled that Alzheimer’s patients cannot be sued for injuring their in-home caregivers. The ruling was published yesterday and follows a long-established rule that Alzheimer’s patients are not liable for injuring professionals who care for them.

California’s Supreme Court said that its ruling was in line with “strong public policy” against institutionalizing disabled individuals. The reasoning is that many more Alzheimer’s patients would be institutionalized if in-home caregivers were allowed to file personal injury lawsuits (whereas nursing home employees are not.)

“We encourage the Legislature to focus its attention on the problems associated with Alzheimer’s caregiving,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote. “The number of Californians afflicted with this disease can only be expected to grow in the coming years. Training requirements and enhanced insurance benefits for caregivers exposed to the risk of injury are among the subjects worthy of legislative investigation.”

About Gregory v. Cott: The California Alzheimer’s Lawsuit

The recent California Supreme Court decision involves a woman named Lorraine Cott who was 85 years old and suffered from Alzheimer’s. Lorraine’s husband, Bernard Cott, contracted a home healthcare agency that assigned Carolyn Gregory to work in the Cott household.

Carolyn was trained to work with individuals with Alzheimer’s and knew that they could be combative.

One day in 2005, Lorraine approached Carolyn from behind as she was washing a large knife at the Cott’s home. Lorraine bumped into her and reached for a sink. The knife fell during the scuffle and struck Carolyn’s wrist. She lost feeling in several fingers and experienced recurring pain as a result.

Carolyn sued the Cotts for negligence and premises liability, but California courts determined that Carolyn’s claims were barred by the “presumption of risk” doctrine. The Supreme Court took up the case because the appeals court was divided in issuing its ruling.

“It is a settled principle that those hired to manage a hazardous condition may not sue their clients for injuries caused by the very risks they were retained to confront,” Justice Corrigan wrote. “Our holding does not preclude liability in situations where caregivers are not warned of a known risk, where defendants otherwise increase the level of risk beyond that inherent in providing care, or where the cause of injury is unrelated to the symptoms of the disease.”

About Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia and accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s include memory, thinking, and behavioral problems.

These symptoms generally develop slowly and get worse over time. There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, although there are some treatments for symptoms available.

Citation: Gregory v. Cott, 2014 WL 3805478, No. S209125., August 4, 2014