Coffee v. McDonnell-Douglas Corp.

8 Cal. 3d 551, 105 Cal. Rptr. 358, 503 P.2d 1366 (1972)



Whether the employer, having required a prospective employee to submit to a physical examination in order to ascertain his fitness for the job, is liable for not discovering a disease depends upon whether or not in the light of all of the circumstances he conducted and completed the examination with due care. Included among the relevant circumstances is the purpose of the examination.


Plaintiff underwent a physical examination for defendant corporation as a prerequisite to employment. The examination failed to detect a serious condition. Plaintiff commenced a negligence action against corporation and its doctor employees alleging defendants performed the physical examination negligently in that they failed to discover the presence of a disease. After the jury returned a verdict against the corporation but not the doctors, and defendant's motion for a new trial was denied, defendant appealed.


Is the corporation responsible for failing to discover plaintiff’s serious condition when the latter underwent physical examination?




The corporation has a duty to discover the affliction, based on the rule that a person who voluntarily undertakes to perform an action, in this case the making of a physical examination, must do so with due care, thus taking the situation out of the general rule under which an employer owes no duty to his prospective employees to ascertain whether they are physically fit for the contemplated employment. Although the doctors individually acted with due care, defendant corporation was negligent in failing to exercise due care in the handling of the blood test reports. The failure to discover the condition was the consequence of defendant's own negligence because corporate procedure allowed the report to be filed without evaluation.

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