Here Is An Example Of Respondeat Superior In Reference To A Civil Law Suit And The Cost To The Employer Of Having To Pay 80% Of A $1,800,000.00 Judgment!!
In this case, a pharmacist breached one of her most sacred duties by viewing the prescription records of a customer and divulging the information she learned from those records to the client’s ex-boyfriend. At some point between fall 2006 and spring 2010, Hinchy was engaged in a sexual relationship with Peterson. During this period, Hinchy filled all of her prescriptions, including oral birth control pills, at a Walgreen pharmacy. In 2009, Peterson began dating Walgreen pharmacist Withers. In August 2009, Hinchy became pregnant with Peterson’s child. On an unknown date, Peterson learned that he had contracted genital herpes. In 2010, Peterson mailed a letter to Withers informing her about the baby and about the possibility that he may have exposed her to genital herpes. Withers became terrified about the possibility of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Consequently, during her shift and while at work, Withers looked up Hinchy’s prescription profile in the Walgreen computer system to see if she could find any information about Hinchy’s sexually transmitted disease. The next day, Withers again looked up Hinchy’s profile to confirm that she had spelled it correctly the day before. Withers has consistently maintained that she never revealed to anyone what she had learned about Hinchy’s prescription profile, did not look for any information related to birth control, and did not print anything out relating to Hinchy’s prescription profile.
On May 29, 2010, Peterson sent the following text message to Hinchy:
I’m not trying to start any crap but I have a print out showing that you didn’t even refill ur birth control perscription for July or august. The last time you filled ur prescription was June. I know uve lied to ur mom and harmony and anybody willing to listen but the printout does not lie. I know you lied to me wth tears and curse words and misplaced righteousness. U really should think about what you did … on ur own. You really should think about that FACT before you call me another name. What kind of person does something like that?
In response, Hinchy sent the following text to Peterson:
Print out. It’s illegal for u to obtain any kind of information like that regarding me. And if u knew anything about my medical history u would know that I was on multiple types of birth control since I was 15.
Peterson responded with the following text:
Abby, you ddnt refill ANYTHING at all. No type of birth control medication at all. June you did. You did NOT in july and august. Jeez ….r you really still trying to claim? Again, I’m not trying to start shit. What’s done is done, but what’s happening was totally avoidable. You are NOT a victim. You did something wrong abby. Very wrong. Ps ….it is not illigall for ME to have it. Ime being very technical here but I ddnt break any laws myself.
It was, in fact, true that Hinchy had not filled her birth control prescriptions in July or August 2009. Unable to understand how Peterson had accessed a printout containing her private prescription information, Hinchy immediately contacted her local Walgreen but was unable to reach anyone. She then called a Walgreen in her mother’s hometown and was told by an employee that there was no way to track whether her records had been accessed. Hinchy took no further action at that time.
On March 18, 2011, Peterson mailed his son a gift. The package had a return address that Hinchy did not recognize. After conducting an internet search regarding the address, she learned that the address belonged to Withers. She also learned that Peterson and Withers were married and that Withers was a pharmacist at the local Walgreen where she fills her prescriptions. Hinchy immediately contacted her local Walgreen to report her suspicion that Withers had looked at her personal records and disclosed the information she learned to an unauthorized individual.
In 2011, Hinchy filed a complaint against Walgreen and Withers. Against Withers, Hinchy filed claims of negligence/professional malpractice, invasion of privacy/public disclosure of private facts, and invasion of privacy/intrusion. Against Walgreen, Hinchy filed claims seeking liability for the counts she filed against Withers by way of respondeat superior, as well as direct claims for negligent training, negligent supervision, negligent retention, and negligence/professional malpractice. After 4 day trial, the jury found in Hinchy’s favor and found that the total amount of damages suffered by Hinchy was $1.8 million that non-party Peterson was responsible for 20% of the damages, and that Walgreen and Withers were jointly responsible for the remaining 80%. Walgreen now appeals.
On appeal, the court noted that vicarious liability will be imposed upon an employer under the doctrine of respondeat superior where the employee has inflicted harm while acting within the scope of employment. To fall within the scope of employment, the injurious act must be incidental to the conduct authorized or it must, to an appreciable extent, further the employer’s business. An act is incidental to authorized conduct when it is subordinate to or pertinent to an act which the servant is employed to perform, or when it is done to an appreciable extent, to further his employer’s business. An employer is not held liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior because it did anything wrong, but rather because of the employer’s relationship to the wrongdoer. Here, Withers’s actions were of the same general nature as those authorized, or incidental to the actions that were authorized, by Walgreen. Specifically, Withers was authorized to use the Walgreen computer system and printer, handle prescriptions for Walgreen customers, look up customer information on the Walgreen computer system, review patient prescription histories, and make prescription-related printouts. Withers was at work, on the job, and using Walgreen equipment when the actions at issue occurred. Hinchy belonged to the general category of individuals to whom Withers owed a duty of privacy protection by virtue of her employment as a pharmacist. The fact that some of Withers’s actions were authorized, or incidental to authorized actions, or of the same general nature as authorized actions, precludes summary judgment. In other words, Ingram dictates that whether Withers was acting in the scope of her employment was properly determined by the jury rather than as a matter of law by the trial court. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed. 21 N.E.3d 99