Are We Liable For A Backstage Brawl?
By Brian Taylor Goldstein
Our stage manger slapped one of our actresses during a rehearsal. Are we liable?
Anyone who understands the unique stresses and pressures of the performing arts should expect a certain degree of screaming, emotional meltdowns, tantrums, and other inappropriate behavior. Welcome to the theater. However, physical violence crosses the line and, among other things, can most certainly get your organization sued!
Anytime an individual provides services on your behalf—regardless of whether or not they are an employee, independent contractor, or even a volunteer—you can be liable if they hurt or injury someone “in the course of performing their duties.” Let’s say, for example, that one of your volunteer ushers decides to forcibly eject a patron who refuses to shut off his cell phone, injuring the patron in the process. Your organization could be liable because the usher was performing services on your behalf and was not properly trained or supervised. (The usher could be sued, too, but your organization would be included in the lawsuit.) On the other hand, let’s say you arrange for a volunteer to pick up an artist from the airport and drive him or her to the theater. If, on the way, the volunteer decides to stop and run a few personal errands and gets into an accident, you would not be liable. Once the volunteer deviated from his or her job by running a personal errand, he or she was no longer working on your behalf. Get it? These things are very fact specific.
In the case of your stage manager, was this a personal fight? Just because the stage manager slapped the actress doesn’t necessarily mean your organization is liable if he or she wasn’t acting in the capacity of a stage manager at the time. However, let’s say that the actress refused to follow the stage manager’s directions, a fight ensued, and the stage manager decided, out of frustration or poor anger management skills, to slap the actress. You could most definitely be sued because the stage manager was clearly acting in his or her capacity as a stage manager.
If you had strict written policies prohibiting physical violence, assaults, battery, etc, you could always argue that (1) you had no reason to believe that your stage manager was violent or had assaulted others in the past and (2) that he or she was violating strict company guidelines and procedures. (The stage manager could still be personally sued for assault and battery, but these arguments might get your organization off the hook.) However, now that this has happened, you would most definitely be liable if this ever happened again and you took no steps to prevent another similar incident.
You would certainly be warranted in dismissing the stage manager and refusing to let him or her work with you again. Short of that, at the very least, you should ensure that there are written policies and procedures for all volunteers, employees, independent contractors, and any one else who provides services for your organization. You need to make sure everyone understands that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.
For additional information and resources on this and other legal and business issues for the performing arts, visit ftmartslaw-pc.com.
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THE OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER:
THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE!
The purpose of this blog is to provide general advice and guidance, not legal advice. Please consult with an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances, facts, challenges, medications, psychiatric disorders, past-lives, karmic debt, and anything else that may impact your situation before drawing any conclusions, deciding upon a course of action, sending a nasty email, filing a lawsuit, or doing anything rash!
Tags: accident, assault, battery, Brian Taylor, fight, Goldstein, inappropriate behavior, independent contractor, independent contractors, injury, Liable, physical violence, volunteers