A Minnesota Court of Appeals affirms a district court’s ruling that a guardian was not liable for negligence in caring for, comforting, and attending to the needs of their ward. A private guardian is immune from liability under the plain wording of Minn. Stat. § 524.5-313(c)(2) (2020). As a result, the district court did not err in dismissing negligence claims against a private guardian. In Zika v Elder Care of Minnesota (Minn. Ct. App. No. A21-1710, August 22, 2022).
In 2012, Jean Krause, who had Alzheimer’s disease, became a resident of the Heritage House facility. Her longtime friend, Naree Weaver, was appointed her guardian and conservator.
Both Ms. Weaver and Heritage House did a poor job of keeping Ms. Krause’s family apprised of Ms. Krause’s health and other events. As a result, in 2015, James Zika, Ms. Krause’s brother, and Robert Krause, her son, sought court intervention to remove Ms. Weaver. The court allowed Mr. Zika to become the conservator but kept Ms. Weaver as guardian.
In 2016, Ms. Krause was sexually assaulted by an employee of Heritage House. She died four months later. Neither Ms. Weaver nor Heritage House disclosed the assault to Ms. Krause’s family. Instead, the family learned of the events from the county attorney 14 months later. Ms. Weaver did not seek trauma services on Ms. Krause’s behalf and allowed her to return to the facility after being hospitalized. Ms. Krause’s family believes the assault led to her health decline, which resulted in her death. They believe this could have been avoided if Ms. Krause had received treatment.
In 2019, Mr. Zika sued Ms. Weaver for negligence and breaching her duties as Ms. Krause’s guardian. He also sought damages against Ms. Weaver. The district court denied Mr. Zika’s claims and dismissed the case against Ms. Weaver. Mr. Zika appealed.
The district court stated that Ms. Weaver is immune from liability for negligence in performing her guardianship duties under Minn. Stat. § 524.5-313(c)(2). This statutory provision has a specific exclusion written into it that a guardian’s “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.” The district court held that this last sentence barred Mr. Zika’s negligence claims against Ms. Weaver as guardian.
Mr. Zika argued that this sentence only precludes liability when a guardian fails to apply for governmental benefits for their ward. The Court of Appeals disagrees. The sentence is clear in its wording and refers to all failures of a guardian to provide for the care, comfort, or maintenance needs of a person in guardianship. Thus, Ms. Weaver is immune to personal liability for her alleged wrongs. By creating this specific statutory liability exclusion, the legislature also modified common law to preclude liability for negligence claims based on a guardian’s failure to perform their duties. So, no separate theory under common law negligence could proceed.
Because all of Zika’s claims revolve around Weaver’s failure to provide for the care, comfort, and maintenance of Ms. Krause, duties covered by Minn. Stat. § 524.5-313(c)(2), they are all subject to the statutory liability exclusion. Ms. Weaver could not be personally or financially liable, and so the Court of Appeals affirms the district court’s dismissal of Mr. Zika’s claims.