Virginia: Wrongful Death – a Lawyer’s Retention

Virginia: Wrongful Death – a Lawyer’s Retention

On September 21, 2012, Mr. Waterman filed Plaintiff’s Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants’ Demurrers and to Defendants’ Motion to Strike, plus lodged Amended Complaint with Exhibits, in Arshan v. Stephen E. Plotnick, M.D., et al., No. CL11-1316 in Circuit Court for the City of Williamsburg and James City County, Virginia. The underlying Demurrers and Motion, Memo, and Amended Complaint concern Plaintiff’s medical malpractice claim.

Plaintiff “correctly notes that the independent tort of negligent retention is recognized in Virginia.” Niese v. City of Alexandria, 264 Va. 230, 240 (2002). “[T]his cause of action is based on the principle that an employer…is subject to liability for harm resulting from the employer’s negligence in retaining a dangerous employee who the employer knew or should have known was dangerous and likely to harm [patients],” Southeast Apartments Mgmt., Inc. v. Jackman, 257 Va. 256, 260 (1999)(emphasis added), as Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint in the Arshan wrongful death suit alleges.

As authority for negligent retention, Southeast Apartments relies upon Phillip Morris, Inc. v. Emerson, 235 Va. 380, 401 (1988). Significantly, Philip Morris holds liability for “one who negligently retains an incompetent independent contractor,” 235 Va. at 401 (emphasis added); which Dr. Plotnick may be in the Arshanwrongful death lawsuit.

Any employer, even a charitable organization, is liable “for the negligent of its employees if it fails to exercise ordinary care in the selection and retention of those employees.” Infant C. v. Boy Scouts of America, Inc., 239 Va. 572 (1990)(citing J . . . v. Victory Tabernacle Baptist Church, 236 Va. 206, 208 (1988); Hill v. Memorial Hosp., Inc., 204 Va. 501, 507 (1963); Memorial Hosp. v. Oakes, Adm’x., 200 Va. 878, 885, 108 S.E.2d 388, 393 (1959); Norfolk Prot. Hospital v. Plunkett, 162 Va. 151, 153 (1934); and Weston’s Adm’x. v. St. Vincent, etc., 131 Va. 587, 610 (1921)). Importantly, that includes a closely-held healthcare entity being liable for negligent retention of a doctor, Hazzis v. Modjadidi, 69 Va. Cir. 385, 390-391 (Norfolk Dec. 19, 2005); such as the PLLC in the Arshan medical malpractice lawsuit being liable for alleged negligent retention of Dr. Plotnick.

Numerous Virginia Circuit Courts have permitted negligent retention claims to go forward. E.g., Hazzis (medical malpractice), supraGray v. Rhoads, 55 Va. Cir. 362, 377-378 (Charlottesville Jul. 2, 2001); Flanary v. Roanoke Valley Soc’y for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 53 Va. Cir. 134, 135 (Roanoke Jun. 26, 2000); Courtney v. Ross Stores, Inc., 45 Va. Cir. 429, 431-432 (Fairfax May 1, 1998); Tremel v. Reid, 45 Va. Cir. 364, 383-385 (Albemarle Apr. 20, 1998); Berry v. Scott & Stringfellow, 45 Va. Cir. 240, 244-247 (Norfolk Mar 27, 1998); and Johnson-Kendrick v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 39 Va. Cir. 314, 319-321 (Norfolk May 31, 1996). In fact, this Honorable Court was one of the earliest ones to do so. Doe v. Bruton Parish Church, 42 Va. Cir. 467, 481-482 (Williamsburg/James City County Jul. 10, 1997).

Sitting in this Honorable Court by special designation of the Virginia Supreme Court in Doe v. Bruton Parish Church, Justice Lemons pronounced: “Based upon what is alleged in the pleadings, the factual basis for the claim of negligent retention appears weak but it is sufficient to withstand demurrer.” Id. at 482. In Flanary, supra, a single prior complaint sufficed as “actual notice” to support a negligent retention claim, while in the Arshan wrongful death case Plaintiff alleges actual notice of multiple prior complaints and incidents. 53 Ca. Cir. at 135. See also, Berry, supra, 45 Va. Cir. at 247 (plaintiff’s factual allegations “indicate that the [corporate defendant] had actual notice of [the individual defendant’s] propensity”).

Federal Courts likewise have upheld negligent retention claims under Virginia law. E.g., Blair v. Defender Servs., Inc., 386 F.3d 623, 629-630 (4th Cir. 2004)(Virginia law); Thompson v. Town of Front Royal, 117 F.Supp.2d 522, 531-532 (W.D.Va. Oct. 3, 2000)(Virginia law); and Call v. Shaw Jewellers d/b/a Sterling, Inc., 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 636, *4-5 (E.D.Va. Jan. 7, 1999)(Virginia law). The Fourth Circuit in Blair reversed dismissal of a negligent retention claim, 386 F.3d at 629-630; while notably the Eastern District in Call also ordered discovery on the negligent retention claim. 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 636, *5-7.