WA Legal Roundup: Division III
Ms. Kaltreider was voluntarily admitted into Lake Chelan Community Hospital (LCCH) for alcohol dependency. Apparently the party continued while she there. Kaltreider and one of the male nurses began a romantic tryst that turned sexual. Once Kaltreider left the hospital, the nurse discontinued the relationship. The sex must not have been the same when it wasn’t performed in a storage room! Kaltreider then sued the hospital and the nurse. Hmmmmm. I wonder if she would have sued if she hadn’t been kicked to the curb.
The lawsuit was based on LCCH’s duty of protection from sexual misconduct. LCCH moved for summary judgment and the court granted the motion concluding that the nurse’s conduct was not reasonably foreseeable as a matter of law. Kaltreider appealed.
Kaltreider relied on Niece v. Elmview Group Home, 131 Wn.2d 39, 43, 929 P.2d 420 (1997), which holds that the relationship between a group home and its residents "creates a duty of reasonable care, owed by the group home to its residents, to protect them from all foreseeable harms." However, the resident in the Niece case was developmentally disabled; thus she was completely vulnerable and the home owed her a duty of complete protection.
Kaltreider had checked herself into the hospital and engaged in consensual sex with a nurse. The majority in Division III found that Kaltreider was not a vulnerable adult and thus LCCH owed no duty to protect against the actions of a third party.
Additionally, the Court of Appeals held that the nurse’s actions were not foreseeable. Quoting from Niece the court stated that the employer "generally does not have a duty to guard against the possibility that one of its employees may be an [undisclosed] sexual predator.” Prior knowledge is the key factor when using this approach. The trial court’s dismissal of the claim was affirmed.
Chief Judge Schultheis filed a dissent opinion based on the scope of the special relationship duty. C.J. Schultheis points out that the scope of the special relationship duty is based on the vulnerable party’s impairment(s). Thus the caregiver has a duty to protect the resident from those dangers to which the party is vulnerable. There is a potential for sexual misconduct visited upon chemically dependent patients and this should be the level of protection afforded to these patients. C.J. Schultheis opined that the injury to Ms. Kaltreider was foreseeable. But his was not the majority.
Smells ripe for a Supreme Court view.