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TORTS a hospital collecting and handling drug-testing samples under contract to an employer owes a duty of care to that employer’s workers, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said on April 25. Sharpe v. St. Luke’s Hosp., No. 36 MAP 2001. As required by her employer, Federal Express, employee Renee Sharpe submitted a urine sample to St. Luke’s Hospital for drug-testing. The hospital sent the sample to an outside lab, which returned a positive result for the presence of cocaine in Sharpe’s system and Federal Express fired her. Sharpe said the hospital’s mishandling of her sample resulted in a false positive. The Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas granted the hospital’s summary judgment motion, on the ground that the hospital did not owe Sharpe a duty of care and the Superior Court affirmed. Reversing, the state’s high court determined that under the standard enunciated in its 2000 case, Althaus v. Cohen, the hospital did owe a duty to Sharpe. The Supreme Court cited five separate reasons for its conclusion including the social utility of the testing program; the foreseeability of harm flowing from inaccurate test results; and, despite the existence of a direct contractual relationship between Sharpe and the hospital, the nature of the relationship between the two given the mandatory nature of the testing program.

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