Patty Plaintiff’s Really Bad Week Scenario
Patty Plaintiff is shopping at her favorite store, Cash Mart. She is looking for a new laptop, but she can’t find one she likes. Then, realizing that she is going to be late for an appointment, she attempts to leave the store, walking very fast. However, before she can leave, she is stopped by a security guard who accuses her of shoplifting. Patty, who has taken nothing, denies any wrong doing. The officer insists and takes Patty to a small room in the back of the store. The guard tells Patty that if she attempts to leave the room she will be arrested and sent to jail. At this point, the guard leaves the room. Patty is scared and waits in the room for over an hour until the manager comes in and apologizes and tells Patty that she is free to go.
About this same time, Gerry Golfer is hitting golf balls in his backyard. Gerry decides to break out his new driver and hits a golf ball out of his backyard into the Cash Mart parking lot. The golf ball hits Patty Plaintiff on the head and knocks her unconscious just as she is leaving the store.
Five days later, after recovering from her injuries, Patty returns to work at Acme Corporation. Unfortunately, she used her company email to send her mom a personal email about her injury despite being aware that Acme’s company policy prohibits use of company email for personal communication. Patty’s supervisor, Barry Bossley, discovers Patty’s violation and Patty is reprimanded. When Patty goes home she uses her personal computer to post disparaging comments about her boss and Acme Corporation on social media. The next day Patty is fired from her job.
In 4-6 pages, answer the following question: What types of legal claims could Patty make against Cash Mart, Gerry, and Acme Corporation? Consider the following:
- What are the possible tort claims that Patty can make against Cash Mart? Discuss the elements of the claim and how those elements relate to the facts in the scenario.
- Was Gerry negligent when he hit the golf ball that injured Patty? Discuss the elements of negligence and use facts from the scenario to support your decision.
- Does Patty have a right to privacy when using Acme Corporation’s e-mail system? Discuss the elements of the claim and how those elements relate to the facts in the scenario.
- Can Patty be legally fired from her job for making negative comments about her boss and her company on social media? Discuss the elements of the claim and how those elements relate to the facts in the scenario.
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Patty Plaintiff’s Really Bad Week – Sample Answer
The presented scenario describes three instances in which Patty Plaintiff can make legal claims. The first is where the store employee denies her the right to leave even though she has not engaged in any criminal activity. The second one is where Gerry decides to break out his driver while playing golf, only to hit Patty Plaintiff on the head, while the third one concerns Patty Plaintiff’s right to privacy and protection from company’s punishment after posting her sentiments on social media.
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The first scenario enmeshes the Federal Tort Claims (Christie, 2010, p.5). This claim was enforced in 1946 to provide a limited waiver of the United States government’s sovereign immunity. Specifically, it stipulates the instances in which individuals injured by negligent or wrongful acts or omissions of federal employees can seek restitution and even receive compensation from federal government through federal courts. Although the security guard is not a federal employee, there are many categories of torts. The term “collateral tort” alludes to a law that involves negligent affliction or emotional distress on a client or wrongful dismissal. It is evident that the security guard caused an affliction of emotional distress on Patty. He even dismissed and detained her unlawfully. False detainment is an intentional tort that results in psychological of physical harm to another party. A commonly accepted description of false imprisonment defines the tort as holding someone against their will and without legal justification as well as unlawful restraint of another.
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The principle of proximate cause demands that the plaintiff show that harm was indeed caused by the cited tort. The defense may contend that there may have been a superseding intervening cause. This can bring up a situation where the plaintiff cannot prove that the injury or emotional distress was initially caused by the accused. Alternative reasons could be a prior or superseding intervening cause. To prove that the restraint was unlawful, the court should examine the facts leading to the use of force or a threat of some kind during the time of restraint. In the current scenario, the security guard insisted that Patty had engaged in a wrong doing and that she would be arrested and sent to jail if she did not comply. Proving that Patty was truly held against her will involve the application of a “reasonable person” standard, which essentially means that the judge will assess whether a reasonable person would consider to have been detained against their will when presented with the same situation (Gilles, 2001). This is where the factual defenses will come into play. If the security guard had blocked Patty’s way through one door but left an exit available through another door, the scenario would not constitute false imprisonment.
The final element of false detainment embroils assessing whether there is legal basis for detention. Examples of legal bases for detention are lawful arrest by enforcement authorities, detention by a shopkeeper if they have a reasonable suspicion that something may have been stolen (shopkeepers privilege) and voluntary consent. If Patty consented to the detention without coercion, she cannot make a tort claim of false imprisonment. However, if she can prove all elements of the tort claim, she may able to recover personal injury damages.
To sue Gerry Golfer, Patty and the court would have to prove that he was categorically negligent. A common basis for holding a person responsible for harm is the theory of “negligence”. In general, a careless act that leads to injury to another person is considered “negligence” and the careless person will be accountable for the resulting harm. The foundation of “negligence” is commonly used in disputes incoming injury such as that between Patty and Gerry. In order to win the case, Patty must prove that the defendant negligently using four elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages. The element of duty states that the defendant should owe a legal duty to the plaintiff (Green, 1928). The element of breach claims that the defendant breached the legal duty owed to the plaintiff by failing or acting in some way. Next, the element of causation asserts that the defendant’s actions were the cause of the plaintiff’s injury. Lastly, the element of damage maintains that the plaintiff was injured as a result of the actions of the defendant.
Elements of negligence are provable in the current case. Gerry will be found negligent under the legal standard of “reasonably negligent person”. This means that the court will evaluate whether the defendant breached the duty of care by considering what the average person would do. Gerry would almost certainly be found negligent if he knew at the time that his action would inflict harm to someone. The third element would necessitate Patty to show that Gerry’s negligence actually caused her injury. She could do this by referring to the medical services she received after the event. If proved guilty, Gerry would have to compensate Patty Plaintiff in terms of damages caused.
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Regarding the right to privacy when using Acme corporation e-mail system, the verdict is dependent upon National Labor relations laws. In 2007, the body issued a decision referred as Registered Guard where the committee authorized employers to retain policies prohibiting employees from using corporate email system for personal use (O’Brien, 2010). The decision was based on the employer’s property rights in the system. As long as employer’s regulation is not discriminatory in any way, they are allowed to manage the privacy of the email system since they own it.
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However, a recent case labeled Purple Communications overruled the Registered Guard verdict to require employers to give employees utilize email systems during non-working time (Kuntz, 2016). Hence, the employer must also grant employees permission to use the email system for non-work related matters. The rationale for this decision is that employees have the right to communicate effectively with each other while at work regarding matters such as self-organization and conditions of employment under Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act. These rights outweigh those of employers prohibiting personal use of the system. Hence there is a presumption that Patty has a right to use the email system to engage in protected communications owing to the fact that she already has access to her employer’s email system. Even so, the employer may refute this argument by demonstrating based on special circumstances to maintain production and discipline.
Petty can be legally fired from her job for making negative comments about her boss and her company on social media but this rests on several legal considerations. If an employee uses the manager’s name, they have to right to review the posts. In fact, the manager is responsible for routinely making sure that the brand retains its reputation in social circles. It is wrong for an employer to target the posts of a specific employee. Nonetheless, if the employee’s post can be found on searching a company’s name, it is important for the employee to verify that the post does not provide a basis for a lawsuit (Lam, 2016). As a general rule, employee have to right to post information on wages and working conditions on online platforms. Notably, these are very broad categories. Hence general grievance and complaints are protected by law. Various state laws also protect employees from punishment for complaining about work situations (Lam, 2016). The law does not protect threats of violence, hate speech, racial epithets, harassment, and disclosure of confidential information. In the current scenario, Patty’s disparaging comments may signify negative, and low opinions to lower the employer’s reputations in which case she would be exempted from legal accountability. On the other hand, she may be reprimanded if her post included unprotected elements.
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In conclusion, Patty’s fate in the present development is dependent on a series of elements in each situation. She may make a tort claim of false arrest although this is limited by the shopkeepers’ privilege. She may also sue Gerry by proving all elements of negligence. Finally, Patty has the right to use company’s e-mail for private reasons based on the Purple Communications ruling. She may also be protected from legal lawsuit and dismissal by the company.