Determining the extent of a company’s liability, especially in cases involving sexual abuse, can be very challenging, and you can expect companies to put up a robust defense. If you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse related to your work in Jackson County, Missouri, contact a sexual abuse lawyer right away for help. Read on for general information about when a company is liable, and ask your lawyer right away about the specifics of your case.
Definition of Independent Contractors
Independent contractors are distinct from employees due to the nature of their relationship with the company they serve. An independent contractor typically provides services based on an agreed-upon contract and retains substantial control over the way they execute these services.
Unlike employees, who function under the direct oversight and with instructions from their employers, independent contractors usually operate with a considerable degree of autonomy. For this reason, there can be ambiguity about a company’s liability for an independent contractor’s actions.
The General Rule of Liability
The legal assumption is that companies are usually not liable for the actions of an independent contractor. Since contractors operate autonomously, the hiring company doesn’t exercise the same control over their actions as it would over an employee.
However, like most legal principles, exceptions can and do apply. These exceptions can sometimes blur the boundaries of liability, making it possible for companies to be held accountable for the actions of an independent contractor. A qualified lawyer is always your best bet when it comes to establishing liability.
When Exceptions Come into Play
Several situations can challenge the general rule of non-liability in a sexual harassment or abuse case in particular:
Negligent Hiring Practices
A company’s liability can also come into question if it’s proven that they were negligent in their hiring process. If, for instance, a company hires a contractor without conducting necessary background checks, and this contractor commits an act of sexual abuse, questions about the company’s responsibility can arise.
This can especially be an issue if the contractor was put in a position of trust where sexual abuse worries are common, such as working with children or the handicapped.
Federal Sexual Harassment Law
Employers are required by federal law to provide a workplace free of sexual harassment. The key here is proving that the employer knew or should have known that an independent contractor was making trouble, and that the abuse occurred on company time, in a company situation. If the abuse occurred in a legal “gray” area, such as while traveling or in an office but after hours, things can be tricky, but your lawyer can help.
If you can prove that someone who abused you has been wrongly classified as an independent contractor, there is a much better chance of holding the employer liable. This can be done by taking a deep look at the person’s interactions with the employer, and your lawyer can investigate this effectively.
Generally, independent contractors set their own hours, work for multiple entities, use their own tools, and pay their own taxes. They do jobs “their way” rather than the employer’s way, except as delineated in the specific contract they agree to. If your lawyer can prove that a supposed independent contractor isn’t working this way for a company, it may be possible to challenge their classification.
Acting as an Agent
At times, a company may engage an agent specifically to act on their behalf. These agents could be employees, but in some situations, they might be independent contractors. This distinction is essential because of the potential implications concerning company liability under agency law. The principal (a company) may in some cases be held liable for the actions of their agent (an independent contractor) if the agent was acting within the scope of their authority or the principal’s business. Again, your attorney will be able to tell you more about whether this could apply in your case.
The Critical Role of Your Jackson County, Missouri Sexual Abuse Lawyer
Sexual abuse cases present profound emotional and legal challenges for victims. Establishing liability isn’t something a victim can be expected to do on their own, especially when the alleged perpetrator is an independent contractor. Even disregarding the emotional cost, investigating and proving liability requires an in-depth understanding of all the legal nuance at play, careful evidence gathering, and strategic representation. For victims, having an attorney by their side is usually pivotal to ensuring that justice is served.
Steps to Prove Liability
One of the primary steps in proving liability is the collection and preservation of evidence. This could be in the form of physical evidence, eyewitness accounts, medical reports, and any documentation that could demonstrate a link between the perpetrator and the alleged crime. Gathering this evidence can be emotionally crushing for victims, who would have to relive the experience over and over through each new piece of evidence. An attorney can take this burden off a victim’s shoulders.
Establishing a Link to the Company
When the accused is an independent contractor, it’s crucial to link them to the company to establish liability. To do this, your attorney must demonstrate that the abuse occurred within the scope of the contractor’s association with the company, whether it’s on company premises, during company hours, or in a situation directly tied to the company’s activities.
Documenting Past Incidents
If there have been previous incidents or accusations involving the same individual, highlighting these can bolster the case. Similarly, if the company had prior knowledge of the contractor’s tendencies and failed to take action, it can be held accountable. An investigation is necessary to uncover things of this nature.
Credible testimonies from witnesses who can corroborate the victim’s account are vital. This might include individuals who witnessed the incident, those who saw the immediate aftermath, or others who can attest to behavioral patterns of the accused. Your attorney will know who to ask and can gather the most effective testimony for your case.
What to Look for in an Attorney
Expertise and Knowledge
Attorneys must have the requisite expertise to understand the complexities of the legal system, state and federal law, and the typical defenses that a company will mount against liability. Look for lawyers with sexual abuse case experience in particular.
Experience in Negotiations and Representation
An attorney can negotiate on behalf of the victim, ensuring they receive fair compensation in a settlement. If the case goes to court, having a seasoned attorney representing the victim can make a world of difference in the outcome. Look for attorneys who frequently negotiate settlements, which is usually the fastest and least painful route for a sexual abuse victim: but who also aren’t afraid to go to court if necessary to fight for a victim’s rights.
Emotional Support and Protection
Navigating a sexual abuse case can be emotionally draining for victims. An attorney should not only provide legal support but also offer a buffer against potential re-victimization during the legal process. A good attorney will act immediately to protect victims from unnecessary trauma and will typically be able to refer victims to qualified, trustworthy counselors as needed.
If you or someone you know is grappling with sexual abuse in the workplace, contact us at Holman Schiavone, LLC right away for help.