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Neighbor Who Volunteered Help May Not Sue For Injuries

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Wilbur Kloepping wanted to stay in his home even though he knew he was dying. The 80-year-old man was confined to a wheelchair most of the time, but his wife Marguerite helped take care of him. Sometimes Mr. Kloepping would fall out of his wheelchair, however, and Mrs. Kloepping was simply not strong enough to get him back into the chair on her own.

On several occasions a neighbor of the Kloeppings, Norma Struempler, helped Mrs. Kloepping get her husband back into his wheelchair. One day in November, 1997, Mrs. Kloepping asked for Ms. Struempler’s help yet again. Mr. Kloepping had fallen forward out of his chair and was unable to stand on his own.

While the two women lifted Mr. Kloepping back into his chair Ms. Struempler suddenly heard a popping sound and realized that she had hurt her back. She returned to her own home sweating and nauseated; when she sought medical help she learned that she had a compressed fracture to her T12 vertebra below the beltline.

According to Ms. Struempler Mr. Kloepping had assured her that he and his wife would pay her for any injury she had received while helping them. Mr. Kloepping died about four weeks later, and Ms. Struempler initiated legal proceedings against his estate and his widow, Mrs. Kloepping.

Ms. Struempler’s lawsuit made a novel claim which, if successful, could have a chilling effect on the elderly who choose to die at home. She argued that Mr. Kloepping placed himself in a position of peril by choosing to stay at home when he knew he needed skilled care, and that he therefore “invited” her to rescue him. Under her theory Mr. and Mrs. Kloepping would automatically be liable for her injury, essentially because Mr. Kloepping should have known he needed to be in a hospital or other institution.

The Nebraska Supreme Court disagreed. In ruling that Mr. Kloepping was not liable for Ms. Struempler’s injuries, the Court pointed out that she had both the opportunity and a duty to exercise care. She could have called the fire department or paramedics, or even declined to help altogether. It was not, according to the Court, foreseeable that Ms. Struempler might be injured while trying to help Mr. Kloepping, and his estate should not have to pay her for that injury. Struempler v. Estate of Kloepping, May 25, 2001.

If Ms. Struempler had been employed as a nursing aide, of course, the result would likely have been very different. Because Ms. Struempler was a neighbor simply trying to help out she did not receive the same legal protection an employee would have been afforded. Mr. Kloepping had no duty to go to a nursing home to prevent injuries like the one Ms. Struempler suffered.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.