Employer Had No Duty to Prevent Caregiver’s Lifting Injury

To a certain extent, employers are legally required to guard their employees against the risk of on-the-job injuries. But for an injured employee to prevail in a lawsuit against the employer, the employee must be able to prove that the employer owed him or her a duty to prevent the particular accident that occurred. The Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal recently affirmed this rule in the recent case of Chaisson v. Drake.

Mary Elizabeth Chaisson was working as a private caregiver for Dr. Winbourne Macgruder Drake. She had been helping him get in and out of his wheelchair for three years when one day something went wrong.

Chaisson was attempting to transfer Drake from a lift chair to his wheelchair when he suddenly began to fall forward. When Chaisson grabbed him to prevent the fall, she pulled muscles in her neck and back.

Chaisson sued Drake and his homeowner’s insurance company for her work-related injuries. The defendants claimed that they did not owe Chaisson a duty to guard against the particular risk that gave rise to her injures. The trial court agreed, granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Chaisson appealed, and the Louisiana State Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit reviewed her case.

The court compared the facts of Chaisson’s case to those in Griffin v. Shelter Insurance Co., a Louisiana First Circuit case that also concerned an accident involving a caregiver and a patient in a wheelchair. The caregiver, Earnestine Griffin, was caring for an elderly woman named Sally Kemp. Griffin was helping Kemp move from her wheelchair to an easy chair when Kemp suddenly grabbed Griffin’s arm, causing pain in Griffin’s leg and back. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and Griffin appealed.

The appellate court in Griffin affirmed the lower court’s ruling in favor of the defendants. The question of duty, the court explained, depended on the facts and circumstances of the case and the relationship of the parties. Whether a particular risk of harm is reasonable also depends on the facts at hand, including who the particular plaintiff is, any contractual obligations that exist, and the superior knowledge the plaintiff may have of the situation.

Applying these principles to Griffin’s case, the First Circuit found that Griffin’s contractual duty to Kemp included helping her from her wheelchair into an easy chair, and the risk of Kemp grabbing Griffin’s arm in the process was the very type of risk that Griffin, not Kemp, was contractually obligated to guard against, based on her special status and job responsibilities.

Chaisson argued that her case was different from Griffin’s, because Griffin had received instructions from a physical therapist on how to move Kemp from her wheelchair to an easy chair, whereas Chaisson was not qualified to help Drake from a standing position to a seated position in his wheelchair.

But the court pointed out that Chaisson was a certified nursing assistant with over a decade of experience working for health care agencies and three years of experience lifting Drake into and out of his wheelchair.

According to the court, it was Chaisson, not Drake, who had the duty to prevent the accident that occurred: “Similar to the court’s finding in Griffin, Plaintiff in this case had the contractual duty to take care of Dr. Drake, and this specifically included assisting him from his lift chair to his wheelchair. We cannot say the trial court erred in finding no duty was owed by Dr. Drake to protect Plaintiff against the very risk she was hired to protect against, i.e., Dr. Drake’s falling due to his physical infirmities.”

If you suffered a work-related injury, contact the Berniard Law Firm today. Our attorneys will get you the relief you deserve.