question mark 2492009 640

What Do You Think: Can Calif. Whole Foods Worker’s Widow Sue Store for Negligence? 

04 Sep, 2023 Chris Parker

question mark 2492009 640

Venice, CA ( – Workers’ compensation is generally the sole remedy for an employee injured at work. But what if the employee’s supervisors provide the injured worker medical aid, and do so negligently? 

That issue arose in a case involving a Whole Foods worker who was hit by a pick-up truck while crossing the street on a work break. The accident occurred around 9:30 pm. He went back inside and reported the injury. 

According to the employee’s surviving spouse, store supervisors told her husband to wait, examined his head, and gave him ice. As he was waiting in the seating area bleeding from his head with an icepack, his supervisors allegedly gathered forms for the employee to complete.  

Store employees then drove him home around 10 p.m. His wife called emergency services about an hour later. The worker subsequently died.  

The wife and the couple’s three children sued the store for negligence. The store argued that workers’ compensation was the wife’s exclusive remedy. However, the wife argued that an exception applied because the employer acted in a non-employer capacity when it gave the worker first aid. 

The court explained that, typically, workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy for an employee against his employer for a work-related accident. 

Under the “dual capacity” exception, however, an employer may assume a relationship with an employee other than that of employer-employee by providing medical care. When an employee seeks damages for injuries arising out of the secondary relationship, the employee's claim is not subject to the  exclusivity provision. 

Did the dual capacity exception apply? 
A. Yes. The supervisors were acting as medical providers when they rendered first aid. 
B. No. The coworkers who aided the employee were not trained medical providers. 

If you chose B, you sided with the court in Jimenez v. Ms. Gooch’s Natural Food Markets, No. B322732 (Cal. Ct. App. 08/28/23), which held that the decedent received first aid from the store in its capacity as his employer, not in its capacity as a medical provider. 

The court explained that the dual capacity doctrine generally applies where an injured employee is treated by an employer who is also a medical professional. An example is where the employee works for a chiropractor who then decides to medically treat an employee who is injured at work. 

Here, the plaintiffs did not allege that the store employees who rendered first-aid assistance were medical professionals. “Nothing about these allegations suggests that the employees or Mrs. Gooch's assumed a separate and independent role as purveyors of medical services unrelated to the employment relationship,” the court wrote. 

Further, the court stated, the dual capacity doctrine does not apply simply because a supervisor undertakes to assist an injured employee and does so negligently. 

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