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Employee’s Poisoning of Co-Worker was Outside the Scope of Employment for Purposes of Employer’s Vicarious Liability

Published by on March 24, 2014

In Monague v. AMN Healthcare, Inc., the California Court of Appeal recently held that a staffing company was not vicariously liable for an employee’s poisoning of a co-worker. AMN Healthcare, Inc. (“AMN”) is a staffing company that provides nurses and other medical personnel to hospitals and health care facilities.  AMN placed a medical assistant, Theresa […]

In Monague v. AMN Healthcare, Inc., the California Court of Appeal recently held that a staffing company was not vicariously liable for an employee’s poisoning of a co-worker.

AMN Healthcare, Inc. (“AMN”) is a staffing company that provides nurses and other medical personnel to hospitals and health care facilities.  AMN placed a medical assistant, Theresa Drummond, to work at a Kaiser facility.  Ms. Drummond and Plaintiff, another medical assistant, had a work-related disagreement.  A few weeks after the disagreement, Ms. Drummond admittedly poured carbonic acid into Plaintiff’s water bottle.  When Plaintiff drank from the water bottle, her tongue and throat started to burn and she vomited.

Plaintiff sued AMN, claiming that it was negligent in hiring, training, and supervising Ms. Drummond.  Plaintiff also stated causes of action for negligence, battery, negligence per se, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against AMN under a theory of respondent superior liability.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of AMN and Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of AMN, holding that AMN was a general employer.  As a general employer, when it relinquished total control over Ms. Drummond to Kaiser, a special employer, AMN was absolved of all respondent superior liability for the employee’s job-related torts.  The Court also concluded that Plaintiff’s claims against AMN failed for the alternative reason that Ms. Drummond’s conduct of poisoning her co-worker was outside the scope of her employment.

Laconic Lesson: Although the intentional torts of an employee may be within the scope of employment, the Court held that Ms. Drummond’s conduct was outside the scope as it was not incidental to her duties, and it was not foreseeable that she would poison her co-worker.

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