Johns Hopkins Health System agreed to shell out $190 million to more than 7,000 women and girls, in one of the largest settlements ever in the United States involving sexual misconduct by a physician.
A gynecologist, practicing in a Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the nation’s most prestigious medical institutions, was accused of using a tiny camera to secretly take videos and pictures of his patients. The doctor worked at the hospital for 25 years, but was fired after admitting to the misconduct and surrendering his recording devices to authorities.
This is a chilling example of how employers can be held responsible for “rogue” employees clearly not working under the consent of the employer. In general, employers have a responsibility to properly supervise their employees’ actions. As in this case, failure to do so can cost millions.
Background of the Case.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a co-worker tipped off Johns Hopkins officials that the gynecologist was wearing a pen around his neck that looked like a camera. In February 2013, an investigation revealed that the gynecologist secretly used the device in question to photograph and videotape thousands of women and girls during pelvic exams. The investigation found that the doctor’s camera captured 1,200 videos and 140 images of his patients, that were then stored on his computer. The doctor was fired in February 2013, and committed suicide days later.
In this case, Johns Hopkins states that insurance will cover the entire $190 million settlement. The preliminary agreement is awaiting final approval from a judge. In a statement, Johns Hopkins’ attorney said that the hospital was unaware of the doctor’s conduct, and that he had become a “rogue” employee. The hospital sent out letters of apology to the gynecologist’s patient list, calling the incident a “breach of trust.”
The lawsuit against Johns Hopkins alleged that the hospital failed to properly supervise the doctor and should have known of his alleged misconduct.
This situation brings up an interesting point, even though the employee was acting on his own accord, the health system would still likely have been held liable if the case was not settled.
Employers are generally “vacariously liable” for their employees’ actions. The basic idea of vicarious liability or the doctrine of respondeat superior is that an employer is held responsible for the negligent acts of its employee that cause injuries to a third party, provided that such acts were committed during the course of and within the scope of the employment.
To establish that the employee’s conduct was within the scope of employment:
1. The conduct must have occurred substantially within the time and space limits authorized by the employment;
2. The employee must have been motivated, at least partially, by a purpose to serve the employer; and
3. The act must have been of a kind that the employee was hired to perform.
In certain circumstances, including the example of the gynecologist, an employer’s vicarious liability can extend to intentional or even criminal acts committed by the employee.
Vicarious liability is a powerful concept and, as evident by the Johns Hopkins case, can result in an employer being responsible for significant sums of money. Employers should institute policies which curb activities that could be injurious to others. The employer has a responsibility to monitor employees and immediately investigate any suspicious activity.
Despite the fact that Johns Hopkins acted quickly, the hospital system will still most likely be left holding a settlement sum of $190 million for actions of an employee.
As an employer, how do you make sure your employees aren’t acting on their own or violating company policies and procedures? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.
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The Health Law Firm represents both employers and employees in the health care industry in defending allegations of sexual misconduct and other complaints from employees and patients. We represent employers in unemployment compensation hearings, in defending against EEOC (discrimination) complaints, and in defending litigation involving wage and hour disputes, as well as other types of contract or employment litigation. We also can investigate such allegations and attempt to negotiate settlements where warranted. Our attorneys represent individuals and institutions in litigation, civil or administrative, state or federal.
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Linderman, Juliet. “Hopkins Pays $190M in Pelvis Exam Pix Settlement.” Associated Press. (July 22, 2014). From: http://apne.ws/UquXOI
Levitz, Jennifer. “Johns Hopkins Agrees to $190 Million Exam-Photos Settlement.” Wall Street Journal. (July 21, 2014). From: http://online.wsj.com/articles/johns-hopkins-hospital-agrees-to-190-million-exam-photos-settlement-1405961572
Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Statement from Johns Hopkins Medicine on the recent news surrounding Nikita Levy, M.D.” Hopkins Medicine. (July 21, 2014). From: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/Nikita_Levy.html
About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. http://www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.
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