By Prof Paula Giliker, Professor of Comparative Law (University of Bristol Law School)
In January 2017, I published a blog on the decision of Judge Cotter QC in December 2016 in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd  EWHC 3104 (QB). This was a High Court decision determining whether an employer would be vicariously liable when a company’s managing director punched a fellow employee during an informal drinking session after the company’s annual Christmas party. Tort lawyers will know that vicarious liability is a rule of strict liability, by which a person (usually an employer) is held strictly liable for the torts of his employees provided that they take place “in the course of employment”. Following the House of Lords’ decision in Lister v Hesley Hall  UKHL 22, a tort is now deemed to be in the course of employment if it is so closely connected with the employment that it would be fair and just to hold the employer vicariously liable. In Bellman, the court was asked to apply the “close connection” test in the light of the Lord Toulson’s restatement of the test in Mohamud v Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc  UKSC 11 in March 2016. In that case, Lord Toulson had stated that, in applying the test for “close connection”, the court has to consider two matters:
- What are the functions or “field of activities” entrusted by the employer to the employee, or, in everyday language, what was the nature of his job?
- Is there a sufficient connection between the position in which the employee was employed and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable under the principle of social justice?
Judge Cotter QC in 2016 ruled that the violent assault had not been closely connected to the managing director’s duties for the company. On 11 October 2018, a unanimous Court of Appeal allowed Bellman’s appeal and ruled in favour of vicarious liability:  EWCA Civ 2214. This blog will consider the implications of this ruling. (more…)