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May 19th, 2015

Indiana High Court Makes Uncharacteristic Bid for Dishonorable Mention in Next ‘Hellholes’ Report

The formerly well-regarded Indiana Supreme Court this month opted to expand significantly the “vicarious” liability of employers when employees disobey in-house policies or relevant law in pursuit of their personal interests that do not further their employers’ interests.

By declining to hear defendant Walgreen’s appeal of an intermediary appellate court decision that upheld a plaintiff’s verdict at trial, Indiana’s high court ignored its own precedent and effectively imposed strict liability on all employers for all actions taken by any employee who’s on the clock — no matter how unlawful or contrary to the employer’s own policies those actions were.

The tawdry, soap opera-like facts of the case involved a love triangle of sorts, wherein a female pharmacist surreptitiously used Walgreen’s computers to access a prescription database while investigating whether the ex-girlfriend and baby-momma of her current lover had been treated for a sexually transmitted disease and had previously stopped taking birth control pills so as to become pregnant.  Having concluded that the ex-girlfriend had been so treated and had stopped taking the pills, the pharmacist incredibly engaged in direct communication with her man’s ex, chastising and even taunting her for her behavior.

Clearly, Walgreen’s had no knowledge of its rogue pharmacist’s selfish and childish flouting of privacy law and its own in-house policies protecting the confidentiality of customers.  And it certainly did not stand to benefit in any way from its pharmacist’s actions.  Nonetheless, this Jerry Springer-like drama will cost the drugstore chain and its customers $1.44 million plus legal fees.

In refusing to hear Walgreen’s appeal, Indiana’s high court forsook its own jurisprudence on so-called respondeat superior,  which had previously required a plaintiff to show that a defendant employer benefitted or stood to benefit from an employee’s negligent or reckless conduct.  Now, Indiana employers may be face costly lawsuits every time an employee commits even unforeseeable and thus unpreventable acts during any given workday.  That won’t be good for employers, and it won’t be good for consumers who’ll end up footing the bills for such litigation.

So the Hoosier State’s high court decision not to correct the trial and lower appellate courts in this instance automatically qualifies it for consideration in ATRA’s next Judicial Hellholes report, due for release in mid-December.  Congratulations!

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