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Employer Is Not Vicariously Liable; Court Finds That Poisoning A Co-Worker Was Outside The Scope Of Employment

Shortly after plaintiff had some workplace disagreements with a co-worker, the co-worker allegedly tried to poison plaintiff by pouring carbolic acid into plaintiff’s water bottle. Plaintiff became violently ill after drinking the poison, but survived and sued the employer for negligence.  She argued that the employer was vicariously liable for the co-worker’s conduct because the co-worker’s action arose out of the work-related disputes.  While an employer ordinarily is vicariously liable for the torts of its employees committed within the scope of the employment, in this case the trial court granted the employer’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal in Montague v. AMN Healthcare, Inc., 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 239 (2014). In its decision, the court found that the plaintiff had presented no evidence that past work-related disputes, rather than the co-worker’s personal animosity toward her, motivated the co-worker’s actions; that the past disputes occurred weeks before the co-worker allegedly poisoned plaintiff’s water bottle; and that plaintiff never considered the disagreements serious enough to complain about them to management. The court therefore concluded that the employer could not be held vicariously liable for the co-worker’s “wildly idiosyncratic behavior” in trying to poison plaintiff.