Brief Fact Summary. Carol Creasy (Plaintiff), a certified nursing assistant, sued Rusk (Defendant), an Alzheimer’s patient, for injuries she suffered when Defendant kicked her while she was trying to put him to bed.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person with mental disabilities is generally held to the same standard of care as that of a reasonable person under the same circumstances without regard to the alleged tortfeasor’s capacity to control or understand the consequences of his or her actions. However, exceptions to this general rule that a person with mental disabilities is generally held to the same standard of care as that of a reasonable person under the same circumstances will arise when the factual circumstances negate the factors supporting imposition of a duty, particularly with respect to the nature of the parties’ relationship and public policy considerations.
Issue. Is the general duty of care imposed upon adults with mental disabilities the same as that for adults without mental disabilities?
* Whether the circumstances of Defendant’s case are such that the general duty of care imposed upon adults with mental disabilities should be imposed upon him?
Held. Judgment of the trial court was affirmed and summary judgment was granted in favor of Defendant because the relationship between the parties and public policy considerations were such that Defendant owed no duty of care to Plaintiff.
Dissent. Associate Justice Dickson of the Indiana high court filed both a dissent and a concurrence. In the former, rejecting the majority’s reasoning, the Associate Justice, citing an Indiana precedent, rejected the notion that the Plaintiff had “impliedly assumed the risk of injury in the primary sense, based upon (her) choice of occupation.” Instead, the dissent argued, such a standard would place at risk any number of individuals who by dint of their professional status are placed in potentially volatile situations. He notes: “It is not only unfair but also extremely unwise social policy to deprive, as a matter of law, such professionals of the tort remedy to which other victims of negligence are entitled.”
Concurrence. Conversely, Associate Justice Dickson asserts that the majority opinion smacks of inconsistency-and concurs in the majority’s assertion that “a person with a mental disability owes a duty of reasonable care.”
Discussion. To establish a prima facie case for negligence, a plaintiff must, by a preponderance of the evidence establish each of the following elements (that is, by more than 50%): duty, standard of care, breach of duty, cause-in-fact, proximate cause (scope of liability) and damages.
* With regard to the threshold issue, the court in Rusk the court addresses the duty of care owed by one with mental disabilities: “Mental disability does not excuse a person from liability for conduct which does not conform to the standard of a reasonable man under like circumstances.” Further, the court notes, historically,” People with mental disabilities are commonly held liable for their intentional and negligent torts. No allowance is made for lack of intelligence, ignorance, excitability, or proneness to accident.” There are, however, exceptions “[A] person with mental disabilities is generally held to the same standard of care as that of a reasonable person under the same circumstances will arise where the factual circumstances negate the factors supporting imposition of a duty, particularly with respect to the nature of the parties’ relationship and public policy considerations. The court then provides a matrix for the balancing of three factors to determine whether an individual owes a duty to another: (1) the relationship between the parties; (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured; and (3) public policy concerns.
* As pertaining to this plaintiff, and others similarly situated, the court concluded, “Public safety officials and caregivers are specifically hired to encounter and combat particular dangers, and by accepting such employment assume the risks associated with their respective occupations.”