South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Hospital Owed Duty of Care to Handle Drug Samples Properly
Description Pennsylvania high court held that a hospital that collected drug-test urine samples from employees of a company had a duty of reasonable care to the employees in the proper handling of the samples. Failure to exercise reasonable care could result in liability based on negligence to an employee who lost their job as a result of improper sample handling.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Duty of Reasonable Care
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Sharp worked for Federal Express. She was directed to report to St. Luke’s Hospital to undergo routine, random drug screening, which the hospital performed on contract with FedEx. Sharp’s sample tested positive for cocaine. She was fired. She sued the hospital, contending that it failed to have proper chain of custody of drug test samples, which meant that she was improperly linked to the sample in question. She contented the hospital was liable to her for negligence. The hospital replied that its handling of test samples was proper and that it owed no duty to Sharp; it was in a contractual relationship with FedEx and was not responsible to Sharp. The trial court dismissed Sharp’s suit and the appeals court affirmed the dismissal. Sharp appealed.

Reversed. Negligence requires the breach of a legally recognized duty or obligation that is causally connected to damages suffered by the plaintiff. The concept of duty is rooted in public policy. The determination of whether a duty should be imposed is based on a balancing of various factors: 1) the relationship between the parties; 2) the social utility of the actor’s conduct; 3) the nature of the risk imposed and foreseeability of the harm incurred; 4) the consequences of imposing a duty upon the actor; and 5) the overall public interest. The hospital knew of the consequences to the plaintiff in the event it was negligent in the handling of the drug sample, so it did have a duty to use reasonable care and not be negligent in its actions.

Citation Sharpe v. St. Luke’s Hospital, --- A.2d --- (2003 WL 1955703, Sup. Ct., Pa., 2003)

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