Liability in case of injury while being cared for?

1 answer | Last updated: Nov 08, 2010
Zoedell asked...

My 90 yr old mother has a friend with dementia. He has become more and more dependent on her for his care. He has an apartment at a limited-care facility. He has no friends there and his family is addressing his increasing needs. Now he has lost his eyesight. He becomes disoriented and panics, and then calls my mother to "help" him. She will then make a difficult 160 mile round-trip to go pick him up, and he stays with her. She has become his "pro bono" care giver, at least 75% of the time. His adult children find no problem with this arrangement, and have made no effort to upgrade his care. What are her liability issues if he should get hurt while staying in my mother's home?

Expert Answers

Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N. and Attorney is the author of author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. She has over 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. As a nurse, she has extensive experience with geriatrics, chronic illness, pain management, dementias, disability, family dynamics, and death and dying. As a trial attorney, she advocated for for the rights of injured individuals and neglected elders. She is also co-founder of

Dear Zoedell: Your question is whether there is liability for injury if your mother is caring for a friend in her home. I do not see a risk of her liability in this situation as much as I see neglect by family members of your mother's friend to address their father's needs. He clearly can't manage any longer in a facility which does not provide the care he needs. With a vision problem added to his other needs, it is more than the facility he's in can apparently provide. For his own safety, and your mother's in trying to help him, he should be moved to a care facility that can address his multiple needs. Your mother is taking on a burden that is not only unsafe for her friend, but unsafe for herself as well. I would suggest that you, as an adult child of someone in a risky situation, request a meeting or telephone meeting with all adult children involved. You will need to be honest and courteous in expressing your legitimate concerns. Ask that this man's family take on the task of changing the living arrangement and finding a suitable care facility.

I would also meet with the current facility where the gentleman is being cared for and speak to the administrator about the situation. They have a legal responsibility to move him out if they can't meet his care needs, and they may not be meeting that responsibility. Your mother is aiding them, and perhaps enabling them to get away with it. It is important here to recognize the relationship between your mother and her friend. I suspect it is very important to her, and she is getting something out of helping, or she would not take on such a difficult task. She needs your help, the help of her own doctor, and the administration of the care facility to help her break this unsafe pattern of putting herself at risk going forward.

If you try these things and do not get anywhere, it's time to contact the ombudsman for the care facility. They are appointed by the state and their job is to address complaints about care facilities. Failing that, I would consider reporting both the facility and the family of the man who needs so much help to your local adult protective services as a last resort. Clearly, he is suffering from inadequate care where he lives, as you describe the situation. His health and safety are also the responsibility of law enforcement and your state, when care facilities or families fail to provide it. Your mother may need your help and support, as well as direct intervention into the commnication with the man's family, to stop her from this habit of "rescuing" her friend.

I suggest that you take action immediately, as something could go wrong at any time. If your mother is driving that distance, taking this man into her home, and enabling the facility to ignore the danger in that, you need to help as soon as possible. Don't be afraid to make noise or rock the boat. It's the right thing to do.