Scope of vicarious liability expanded by Supreme Court

Following two Supreme Court Judgments this week, employers and those in relationships akin to employment are more likely than ever to be held vicariously liable for the actions of those performing duties on their behalf.

 

1. Liability for the negligent actions of non-employees
In Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10 https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2014-0089.html the Supreme Court held the Ministry of Justice liable to a catering assistant employed in HMP Swansea, who was injured when a prisoner accidentally dropped a large sack of rice on her. Whilst the MOJ was not the prisoner’s employer, there was a relationship akin to employment and the task being carried out was done on the Defendant’s behalf and for its benefit.

This judgement has significant implications for organisations who delegate duties to individuals who are not employees, applying the guidance set out by the Supreme Court in the previous Christian Brothers case – [2012] UKSC 56.

 

2. Violent acts of employees
In Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets [2016] UKSC 11 https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2014-0087.html the Supreme Court ruled that the Defendant was liable for its employee’s unprovoked assault on a customer. The employee left his post in the Defendant’s petrol station kiosk, threatened the Plaintiff and assaulted him, ignoring instructions from his supervisor to stop. The Court rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that a test of “representative capacity” should be applied, reaffirming the existing “close connection” test of Lord Steyn in Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd (2002) 1AC 215. The close connection arose here due to the seamless transition from the initial encounter between the men in connection with the Defendant’s business, to the subsequent attack.

Employers have previously been held vicariously liability for the acts of employees if the use of violence was reasonably foreseeable due to the nature of the work (as with the assault by a club doorman in Mattis v Pollock [2003] 1WLR 2150). They must now be aware of the risk of liability irrespective of the nature of the work.

 

If you have any questions please contact Kathy McGillie (Partner and head of Tughans Insurance Litigation Department) or Rory Higgins (Associate Solicitor) for further information.

While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.

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While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.