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I'm considering caring for the father of a friend, as a favor. Should I worry about liability issues?

Friday March 29, 2013
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Dear Nancy,

I'm considering doing a favor for a friend who lives far from his parents. His father is declining into dementia and his mother needs a break from the strain of caring for him. An RN friend brought up the issue of liability, if something were to happen to the father on my watch. I have liability insurance for my other RN per diem work. Officially, I would not be working as a nurse — it would be more like elder sitting or respite care. I would be doing this twice a week for two to three hours. Do I need to worry about this?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Francine,

Whether your current professional liability insurance would cover you for the situation you describe, is something only the insurance agent can tell you. You will need to fully describe what you will be doing if you undertake this favor for your friend.

Even though you say you would not be functioning as a nurse while sitting with your friend's father, your friend's comment is a good one. Because you are a nurse, you don't leave that role at the front door when sitting with this man. If something were to happen when you were there, or even when you weren't there, your friend might decide you did something you shouldn't have or didn't do something you should have.

Remember that if an injury occurred to the man due to your alleged negligence, your standard of care would be that of an RN, not one of a sitter or respite care provider.

It probably would be better if the family would hire a local sitter or respite service. They would be responsible for sitting with this man, evaluating him on a regular basis and reporting back to the family. The family would want a service that is highly rated and has received good evaluations. There are many such agencies in most communities today. A good place for the family to start getting information about such an agency would be the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association and the man's physician.

If you do decide to take on this generous act for your friend, get a consultation with a nurse attorney or attorney who can advise you of any specific legal issue you may face.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.