Tag Archives: employer’s liability

When Christmas drinks go wrong – Vicarious liability and the ‘course of employment’ test in the High Court

By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor in Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The office Christmas party is something many of us will have enjoyed recently.  In the words of Judge Cotter QC in the recent High Court decision in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2016] EWHC 3104 (QB), it is an occasion “no doubted dreaded by some and an annual highlight for others” (para 14).  Needless to say, in most cases, alcohol will be freely flowing and sadly things may be said or done regretted bitterly the next day.

In the case of the Northampton Recruitment Ltd 2011 Christmas party, it was not the party itself (held at the Collingtree Golf Club) which proved eventful, but the “after party” held in the lobby of the Collingtree Hilton Hotel in the course of which the managing director of the company, John Major, punched an employee (Clive Bellman) twice during the course of a disagreement at 3am. Mr Bellman’s head hit the marble floor, leading to brain damage. By the time of the trial, his condition was such that he was not able to litigate or manage his affairs and brought his claim as a protected party. To add to the tragedy, the parties in question had been friends since childhood. The assault, no doubt fuelled by alcohol, had been provoked by a work-related dispute, although discussions at the Hilton Bar had covered a variety of matters. The question for the court was whether the company would be held vicariously liable for the tort of its managing director. Continue reading

Supreme Court rulings on vicarious liability: Cox and Mohamud

By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor in Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© The Local Data Company

© The Local Data Company

“To search for certainty and precision in vicarious liability is to undertake a quest for a chimaera”: Lord Dyson (Mohamud)

On 2 March 2016, the Supreme Court delivered two judgments which it described as “complementary to each other” on the controversial topic of vicarious liability in tort.  Vicarious liability imposes strict liability on an employer for the wrongful actions of (usually) its employees which are committed in the course of his or her employment.  Recently, however, as Lord Phillips (former President of the Supreme Court) stated in the case of Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56 (“the Christian Brothers case”), “the law of vicarious liability is on the move.”  Since 2001, it has been an area of law subject to expansion.  The question on appeal to the Supreme Court was essentially how far this expansion would go, examining, in particular:

  • The relationship needed to give rise to vicarious liability. This was examined in Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10.
  • The manner in which the wrongful acts of the employee have to be related to the relationship giving rise to vicarious liability – in other words, were the employee’s torts so closely connected with his employment that it would be just to hold the employers liable? This was examined in Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11.

Both judgments are short and unanimous.  Neither claim, however, to provide absolute tests, taking the view that a lack of precision is inevitable, given the infinite range of circumstances where the issues arise. Continue reading