Co-authored by attorney Kelly Zech
At Henson Efron, we delve into a wide range of legal issues, including guardianship. In the article below, we share a recent court ruling which has significant ramifications for private guardians in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently upheld a 2020 Minnesota statute1 that bars claims against private guardians for “negligently performing the guardian’s duty to provide for the care, comfort, and maintenance needs of the person subject to guardianship.”
The case, Zika v. Elder Care of Minnesota, Inc.2, centered around Jean Krause, a retired nurse who suffered from advanced Alzheimer’s disease late in life. In December 2012, Ms. Krause became a resident of Heritage House in Pequot Lakes. Her long-time friend and neighbor, Naree Weaver, was appointed as her guardian and conservator.
On May 8, 2016, Ms. Krause was assaulted by David DeLong, a male nurse’s aide who worked at Heritage House. Ms. Weaver was immediately informed of the assault, but neither she nor Heritage House informed Ms. Krause’s family of the incident. Four months later, Ms. Krause died of unrelated causes. Aside from an overnight hospital stay on the day of the assault, Ms. Krause received no services for trauma related to the sexual assault.
Nearly a year later, the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office contacted Ms. Krause’s brother, James Zika, and her son, Robert Krause. Mr. Krause believed the sexual assault coincided with his mother’s rapid decline in health. He contended that if he had known of the assault, he would have removed his mother from Heritage House, sought trauma treatment for her, and petitioned for Weaver’s removal as guardian.
Acting as the personal representative of his sister’s estate, Mr. Zika filed suit against Ms. Weaver in January 2019. The suit alleged that she negligently breached her duties as Ms. Krause’s guardian by not monitoring her care after she was sexually assaulted, neglecting to provide her with care, comfort and services afterward, and failing to inform family members of her assault or other health information.
In dismissing the claims, the district court concluded that Mr. Zika’s negligence claims against Ms. Weaver are barred by Minnesota Statute, which states that “the duties and powers of a guardian … include, but are not limited to, … the duty to provide for the care, comfort, and maintenance needs of the person subject to guardianship, including food, clothing, shelter, health care, social and recreational requirements, and .. training, education, and rehabilitation.” In addition, “Failure to satisfy the needs and requirements of this clause shall be grounds for removal of a private guardian, but the guardian shall have no personal or monetary liability.”
Affirming the district court’s ruling, the Minnesota Court of Appeals held that “a private guardian is immune from liability for negligence in the performance of a guardian’s duty ‘to provide for the care, comfort, and maintenance needs of the person subject to guardianship.’”
The appellate court further concluded that because the Minnesota Legislature listed specific duties and then granted immunity for failure to perform those duties, the legislature “modified the common law by providing immunity from any negligence claims based on those duties.”
In summary, the case protects guardians from the risk of financial and personal liability in their service to wards.
Contact us with questions related to guardianship, negligence, or issues of family and estate law.
1 Minn. Stat. § 524.5-313(c)(2) (2020)
2 Zika v. Elder Care of Minnesota, Inc., No. A21-1710, 2022 WL 3581828 (Minn. Ct. App. Aug. 22, 2022).