Human Resources News & Insights

Who’s to blame for hiring of drug-addicted doctor?

This recent case highlights the problems caused by untruthful references.

An anesthesiologist was fired for stealing prescription narcotics from the hospital where he worked and for being under the influence of drugs during his shifts.

When the applied for a job at a different hospital, his former boss was asked for a reference. For reasons unknown, the supervisor declined the mention the termination and, in fact, wrote that the ex-employee was “an excellent clinician” and would be “an asset to any anesthesia service.”

He got the job. About a year later, the doctor, while under the influence of narcotics, botched a routine procedure that left the patient in a permanent vegetative state. The hospital was sued by the victim’s family and forced to pay $8 million in damages.

In turn, the hospital sued the doctor’s ex-employer, claiming the supervisor negligently provided a positive reference.

The court agreed. Employers don’t have a legal obligation to respond to reference requests. So if the hospital had said nothing, it wouldn’t be held liable.

But once an employer offers some information, the judge said, it has a duty to be truthful. So in this case, the hospital was on the hook for the supervisor’s blatantly false statements.

Cite: Kadlec Medical Center v. Lakeview Medical Center

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