Doctrine of Respondeat Superior California
In Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles (1991) 54 Cal. 3d 202, the Supreme Court considered the policy goals of the respondeat superior doctrine:
"Preventing future injuries, assuring compensation to victims, and spreading the losses caused by an enterprise equitably . . . ." ( Lisa M., supra, 12 Cal. 4th at p. 304.)
The Supreme Court found the first two policy considerations of uncertain import. With respect to the third policy concern, the court concluded:
"The connection between the technician's employment duties . . . and his independent commission of a deliberate sexual assault was too attenuated, without proof of Hospital's negligence, to support allocation of plaintiff's losses to Hospital as a cost of doing business." ( Id. at p. 305.)
The Court held a police officer's assault was a generally foreseeable consequence of his position. 'In view of the considerable power and authority that police officers possess, it is neither startling nor unexpected that on occasion an officer will misuse that authority by engaging in assaultive conduct.'
The Court expressly limited our holding:
'We stress that our conclusion in this case flows from the unique authority vested in police officers. Employees who do not have this authority and who commit sexual assaults may be acting outside the scope of their employment as a matter of law.'
While a police officer's assault may be foreseeable from the scope of his unique authority over detainees, we are unable to say the same of an ultrasound technician's assault on a patient.
Hospital did not give the technician any power to exercise general control over plaintiff's liberty. He was not vested with any coercive authority, and the trust plaintiff was asked to place in him was limited to conduct of an ultrasound examination.
His subsequent battery of the patient was independent of the narrow purpose for which plaintiff was asked to trust him.
Whatever costs may be fairly attributable to a police officer's public employer in light of the extraordinary scope of authority the community, for its own benefit, confers on the officer, we believe it would not be fair to attribute to Hospital, which employed the technician simply to conduct ultrasound examinations, the costs of a deliberate, independently motivated sexual battery unconnected to the prescribed examination." ( Lisa M., supra, 12 Cal. 4th at pp. 303-304.)