It rhymed in a Beck song that questioned on his R&B concept album "Midnight Vultures," but it's no joke. Hepatitis C is a virus that affects the liver and may go undetected for up to six months. Sometimes, symptoms of infection do not show up at all.
Unfortunately for Linda Ficken, she was infected with Hepatitis C while being treated at a hospital in Kansas. Ficken's lawsuit blames the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for hiring the rogue med tech accused of spreading the infectious disease, according to Courthouse News Service. The technician, David Kwiatkowski, is suspected of infecting syringes after he used them to inject himself with drugs.
Kwiatkowski allegedly worked at a series of hospitals across the country after he was fired from UPMC. But if it was Kwiatkowski who was allegedly responsible for the actions that infected people, why would the hospital be sued?
Hospitals, like other employers, can potentially be held liable for their employees' actions. One legal theory that allows this is called respondeat superior, which basically means that the employer answers for the action of the employee. It's a form of vicarious liability.
To recover under respondeat superior, a victim must show that the accident happened while the employee was performing work-related duties. However, if the employee was on break or not working that day, the employer will not be held liable.
Another way to recover under respondeat superior is if the employer was negligent in hiring the employee. In this situation, a victim can recover if she can show the employer should have run a background check or should otherwise have known about an employee's criminal history.
Here, a respondeat superior case would likely fail because Kwiatkowski's alleged drug use, and his alleged reuse of infected syringes on patients, most likely do not fall within the job description of a radiologic technician.
However, a claim for negligent hiring could potentially be successful because Kwiatkowski was discharged from multiple positions before landing at UPMC. Linda Ficken may be able to argue that had a proper background check been conducted, Kwiatkowski may not have been hired by UPMC or by any subsequent hospital.
Ficken's lawsuit also alleges UPMC failed to report Kwiatkowski's acts to government agencies as required by law. "Had defendant UPMC complied with the [law], Kwiatkowski would not have been able to infect plaintiff Linda Ficken," her complaint states, according to Courthouse News.
If you've been harmed by someone while that person was working, a call to a Philadelphia personal injury attorney could help to determine whether you can recover from the person's employer as well.
[Editor's Note 9/10/12: This post was updated to clarify that plaintiff Linda Ficken was treated at a hospital in Kansas, not at UPMC.]
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