Nursefinders is a placement company. It provides nurses and other employees to hospitals and other health care facilities. Nursefinders assigned Theresa Drummond to work at a Kaiser facility as a medical assistant. Drummond had a few work related disagreements with another medical assistant at Kaiser, whose name is Montague. Montague did not consider these squabbles to be important.
Montague and her husband sued Drummond and Nursefinders for intentional infliction of emotional distress. But the trial court granted summary judgment to Nursefinders, finding that Drummond was Kaiser's special employee, and that Drummond's actions were beyond the course and scope of her employment. Therefore, Nursefinders could not be held vicariously liable for Montague's injuries (or her husband's loss of consortium). The court also dismissed Montague's claim for negligent retention, supervision and hiring, holding there was a lack of causation between Nursefinder's hiring and Drummond's decision to spike Montague's water.
Montague's attempt to establish respondeat superior liability for Nursefinders simply because she and Drummond worked together at Kaiser is misguided. "The nexus required for respondeat superior liability—that the tort be engendered by or arise from the work—is to be distinguished from 'but for' causation. That the employment brought tortfeasor and victim together in time and place is not enough." (Lisa M., supra, 12 Cal.4th at p. 298, fn. omitted.) The facts, construed most favorably for Montague, do not support liability against Nursefinders because Drummond's poisoning of Montague was highly unusual and startling.
Montague alleged that Nursefinders had a duty to train Drummond regarding the proper handling of work-related disputes and that its negligence in this regard caused her harm. As a preliminary matter, we will assume without deciding, that Nursefinders had a duty to train its employees regarding the avoidance of workplace violence. (Phillips v. TLC Plumbing, Inc. (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 1133, 1140 [Liability for negligent hiring, training, and supervision " 'is limited by basic principles of tort law, including requirements of causation and duty.' "].)
What about suing Drummond's kindergarten, parents, college, etc.? "It's nice to share." "Wash your hands." "Don't poison people you don't agree with."
Anyway, having assumed such a duty exists, without deciding, the court held that Montague did not establish that Nursefinders failed to conduct workplace violence training:
Drummond and the Nursefinders's branch director signed a document verifying that Drummond participated in Nursefinders's orientation which explained certain topics including "Workplace Violence." Nursefinders also admitted it trained Drummond on Kaiser's policies and procedures regarding "Violence in the Workplace" and "Management of Threats and Aggressive Behavior." Montague cites to Drummond's deposition testimony and her response to an interrogatory to show Drummond did not receive the specified training. Review of this evidence does not support her contention.After rejecting Montague's argument that Drummond was not trained, she tried a different argument, which the Court also rejected.
Montague's argument appears to be that because Nursefinders trained Drummond on avoiding workplace violence and the incident occurred, this evidence supports an inference that Nursefinders must have breached its duty to train Drummond in avoiding workplace violence and this breach caused her injuries. We reject this contention as the suggested inferences are based on speculation and not reasonably deducible from the evidence. Montague "cannot survive summary judgment simply because it is possible"
So, the takeaway is that employers should conduct workplace violence training to avoid the argument that lack of training could result in an employee's not knowing it's wrong to poison a co-worker's water. Good news for management trainers like us.