The final episode of the sixth season of Desperate Housewives, which aired on May 17, 2010, was filled from start to finish with the suburbia drama that the television show is known and loved for.   This episode titled, “I Guess This is Goodbye”, begins with a dying patient at Fairview Memorial Hospital telling a priest a secret about her past.  The dying patient reveals that she had previously worked as a nurse in the labor and delivery unit of Fairview Memorial Hospital and that she did horrible things while working as a nurse. The dying ex-nurse requests that the priest tell the hospital of her horrible behavior upon her death.

In accordance with the nurse’s request, the priest tells one of the hospital’s executives what the nurse admitted to him.  At the end of the episode, the executive has a meeting with the hospital’s lawyers during which they discuss the legal ramifications of this nurse’s behavior.  While they never say specifically what the nurse admitted to, they do mention that some parents in the community are raising children who are not biologically related to them. 

Thus the issue presents itself: what legal consequences might Fairview Memorial Hospital face once some local parents find out they have been raising children that are not their biological children?   Since the state where this show takes place is fictional, let’s look at the laws regarding this matter in a sample state.  Many viewers and critics think the show takes place in the Northeast, so our sample state will be New York.

Under New York law, a hospital’s liability for a nurse is governed by the same principles of law as applied to all other employers. To determine the hospital’s liability, the test is whether the person who committed the injury-producing act is the hospital’s employee, and whether he was acting within the scope of his employment. See Bing v. Thunig. The show tells us the dying patient was employed as a nurse at Fairview Memorial Hospital when she committed the injury-producing act, which we think was switching infants at birth. Whatever she did, we don’t know whether she acted within the scope of her employment.   If she was not, then the hospital may not be liable. But if the hospital had reason to know of her activities, it may be liable.  The season 7 premiere may reveal more needed details about the nurse’s actions and the hospital’s potential legal problems. Stay tuned.

For the case click here: Bing v. Thunig

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