Creasy v. Rusk

730 N.E.2d 659 (2000)

Quick Summary

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Carol Creasy (plaintiff), a nursing assistant, was injured by Lloyd Rusk (defendant), a patient with advanced-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Creasy sought damages for her injuries through a negligence claim. The dispute centered around whether Rusk owed Creasy a duty of care despite his mental condition.

The Indiana Supreme Court held that due to public policy and the nature of Creasy’s occupation, Rusk did not owe a duty of care to Creasy. The Court reasoned that caregivers are employed to handle such risks and that workers’ compensation is the proper avenue for such claims.

Facts of the Case

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Lloyd Rusk (defendant) was an advanced-stage Alzheimer’s patient experiencing severe symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, and aggressive behavior. Carol Creasy (plaintiff) was a nursing assistant at the nursing home where Rusk resided. Creasy’s duties included caring for Rusk, despite him often being combative towards staff.

On one particular evening, Rusk violently kicked Creasy while being assisted to bed, causing her injury. Creasy filed a negligence lawsuit against Rusk for the damages resulting from her injuries.

The case navigated through the Indiana legal system to determine if Rusk, given his mental condition, could be held liable for the harm caused to Creasy.

Procedural Posture and History

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  1. Creasy filed a negligence claim against Rusk.
  2. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Rusk.
  3. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision.
  4. The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer to review the case.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether an individual with advanced-stage Alzheimer’s disease owes a duty of care to a nursing assistant injured by the individual’s aggressive behavior associated with the disease.

Rule of Law

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Adults with mental disabilities are held to the same standard of care as those without mental disabilities, with exceptions based on the relationship between the parties and public policy considerations.

Reasoning and Analysis

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The Supreme Court of Indiana concluded that while adults with mental disabilities generally have the same duty of care as those without, this case presented unique circumstances. The court highlighted that Creasy, by virtue of her employment, was aware of and equipped to handle the risks associated with caring for Alzheimer’s patients like Rusk.

Additionally, public policy considerations favored not imposing liability on Rusk due to his lack of capacity to control or understand his actions, which were the very reasons for his institutionalization.

The court further reasoned that the workers’ compensation system, not tort law, is the appropriate mechanism for addressing employment-related injuries in such contexts.

By comparing the situation to the fireman’s rule, which states that firefighters cannot claim negligence for the inherent risks of their job, the court found a similar rationale applied to caregivers in nursing homes.


Conclusion Icon

The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, granting Rusk’s motion for summary judgment and holding that he did not owe a duty to Creasy under these circumstances.

Dissenting Opinions

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Justice Dickson dissented in part, agreeing with the general rule of law in Part I but disagreeing with the court’s application in Part II. Dickson argued that individualized determinations of duty and fault should be left to juries under the Comparative Fault Act and that professionals should not be deprived of recourse for injuries incurred in their professional capacity.

Key Takeaways

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  1. Individuals with mental disabilities are generally held to the same duty of care as those without.
  2. Exceptions to this rule may apply based on the relationship between the parties and public policy considerations.
  3. In cases involving caregivers and patients with advanced dementia, courts may rule that no duty of care is owed due to the nature of their relationship and public policy reasons.
  4. Employment-related injuries in caregiving professions are typically addressed through workers’ compensation rather than tort law.

Relevant FAQs of this case

Can an individual with a mental disability be exempted from standard legal duties due to their condition?

The law typically holds individuals with mental disabilities to the same legal duties as those without such disabilities. However, exceptions can occur when the disability significantly impairs the individual’s ability to understand or control their actions. Public policy may also influence the imposition of duty to prevent unfair burdens on those incapable of adhering to standard expectations.

  • For example: A child wanders onto the property of an individual with severe cognitive impairments who accidentally harms the child. Given the caretaker was not present, and the individual’s inability to comprehend the situation, courts might find that no duty was breached due to the mental disability.

In what circumstances does workers' compensation become the exclusive remedy for workplace injuries?

Workers’ compensation is often the sole remedy when employees suffer job-related injuries. This no-fault system ensures workers receive medical care and financial benefits swiftly without needing to prove employer negligence. It applies in most employment contexts, especially where occupational hazards are inherent to the job responsibilities.

  • For example: A construction worker suffers an injury from a fall despite wearing all prescribed safety gear. Workers’ compensation would typically cover their medical expenses and lost wages, precluding a negligence lawsuit against the employer.

How do public policy considerations impact rulings in personal injury cases?

Public policy plays a crucial role in shaping court rulings by considering societal interests and fairness. When balancing individual rights with broader societal good, courts may rule in favor of decisions that reflect values such as personal responsibility, protection of vulnerable populations, and prevention of frivolous lawsuits.

  • For example: A manufacturer produces lifesaving fire equipment which, due to an inherent risk, might occasionally fail. Public policy may shield the manufacturer from liability beyond specific warranty claims to ensure these essential products continue to be available.


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