A certified nursing assistant at a nursing home was mopping the lobby when a resident came in. She asked the resident to return to his room until the floor dried. The resident attacked the assistant, and the assistant began "swinging" at him. Coworkers broke up the fight. The assistant was upset, and a coworker observed that she was wheezing. Shortly after, the assistant had a heart attack and died. She had preexisting heart disease. The doctor who performed the autopsy opined that the stress from the attack was the predominant and major cause of the assistant's death.
The resident had moved into the home two weeks before the incident. He was diagnosed with impulse control disorder, dementia and associated psychotic disorder. The home was aware that he previously had "infrequent explosive outbursts without provocation." The home's administrator and medical director said they believed the home could provide care for the resident without him presenting a danger to other residents or staff.
The assistant's husband and children sued the home. The trial court dismissed the suit, finding that workers' compensation provided the exclusive remedy for the assistant's death. The husband and children appealed.
Was the trial court correct in finding the suit was barred?
A.Yes.The stress from the attack led to the assistant's death.
B.No.The home knew that the resident was aggressive and its failure to provide protection to the assistant was an intentional act that was substantially certain to cause an injury.
C.No.The husband and children could assert a negligence claim because the assistant's death was not compensable under workers' compensation.
How the court ruled: A. The Louisiana Court of Appeal held that the suit was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of workers' compensation. Lloyd v. Shady Lake Nursing Home, Inc., No. 47,025-CA (La. Ct. App. 05/09/12).
The court concluded that the home demonstrated that the assistant's heart-related death was a compensable injury by accident arising out of and in the course of her employment. The court pointed out that the case did not involve a situation where the assistant happened to have a heart attack at work. Rather, the stress from the attack overwhelmed her cardiovascular system and led to her death.
A dissenting judge opined that the resident's attack could not be considered within the course and scope of the assistant's employment.
B is incorrect. The court concluded that the intentional act exception to the exclusive remedy provision did not apply. Although the home knew of the resident's propensity for combative behavior, it believed that he could be provided appropriate care in the nursing home setting. The evidence fell short of establishing that the home consciously desired to bring about the assistant's injury or death or believed that such was substantially certain to follow from the resident's admission to the home.
C is incorrect. The court found that the assistant's death was compensable under workers' compensation. The court explained that the attack by the resident constituted extraordinary work stress. Although it was not uncommon for nursing home staff to be hit by patients, the resident's attack was not typically experienced.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
June 28, 2012
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