When You Can Sue an Illinois Employer for the Criminal Acts of Its Employee

Legal News GavelIllinois law allows injured people to hold employers liable for the acts of their employees in certain situations. While the law generally says that one party cannot be liable for the criminal acts of another, the law does demand that employers “act reasonably in hiring, supervising and retaining” their employees. In order to succeed under Illinois law, you must show that the employer knew or should have known that the employee in question posed a danger to third parties (and that this problem was known at the time of hiring or retention), and this problem was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. If you’ve been injured because an employer didn’t do enough to stop one of its employees, you may have a case and should consult Illinois injury counsel about your circumstances.

The details of one recent federal case were truly tragic. Alisha, who was from just outside Chicago, had worked for a “big box” home improvement store since she was 16. During her five-year tenure with the store, Alisha only had one supervisor. That supervisor allegedly verbally abused her at work and monitored her activity both during and outside work. The supervisor also required that she accompany him on business trips. Eventually, he demanded that she accompany him to his sister’s wedding in Wisconsin, threatening to reduce her hours or terminate her employment completely if she refused. She went. After the wedding, he raped and killed her.

Alisha’s mother, Sherry, sued the employer for wrongful death. She argued that the employer knew about the supervisor’s disturbing propensities and did not do enough. By failing to take appropriate steps, the employer was liable for the supervisor’s violent acts.

The employer sought to have the case thrown out. The trial court sided with the employer, but the Seventh Circuit concluded that Sherry was entitled to pursue her case at trial. The facts of the case indicated that the supervisor had previously sexually harassed another teenage employee until that worker quit her job. After that employee left, the supervisor focused his fixation on Alisha.

The evidence in the case indicated that senior management at the home improvement store knew about the supervisor’s abusive and harassing tendencies, both generally and toward Alisha in particular. The only action the employer took was to demand that the supervisor take anger management classes – a requirement that no one checked to confirm that the man completed (and he didn’t). The store’s managers told Alisha they knew about the supervisor’s improper conduct toward her, but they did not move her to work under a different supervisor.

The employer argued that Sherry couldn’t win because the supervisor was not on its premises and did not use its “chattels” when he killed her. (This means that he wasn’t at work and wasn’t using any of the store’s property when he killed Alisha.) The Seventh Circuit explained that, while those statements were true, the supervisor was using something that the employer did give him:  the power of supervisory authority. The supervisor used his power to control Alisha’s employment to commit his crime, since Alisha only accompanied him to Wisconsin because the supervisor threatened to reduce her hours or fire her if she said no. Without the authority that the employer had given him and had never taken away from him, Alisha might have declined to go on the trip and avoided her death. This authority, which the store had given him and continued to give him even after learning of his troubling tendencies, was enough to allow Sherry to maintain her case and argue that the man’s conduct made it foreseeable that violence would result and that the employer was liable, according to the court.

If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s improper inaction, be proactive in asserting your rights. Consult the experienced Chicago wrongful death attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eagle, Eisenstein, Johnson & Bareck. Our attorneys have been helping injured people for many years and are ready to go to work for you. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 800-444-1525 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Party Bus Accident on Chicago Interstate Highway Leads to One Death and Legal Action, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Nov. 22, 2017

Illinois Appeals Court Affirms Judgment and $1.8M Damages Award for Family of Deceased Bicyclist, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, July 13, 2017