Vicarious Liability Update


In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd, the Court of Appeal held that an employer can potentially be vicariously liable for injury caused to an employee at an impromptu work afterparty, following the Christmas party.

Mr Bellman, a sales manager for the Respondent, was attacked and severely injured by the company’s managing director, Mr Major, at an impromptu drinking session following their Christmas party.

The managing director had arranged taxis to the afterparty and the drinks were mainly paid for by the company. During this afterparty, an argument broke out concerning the placement and terms of one of the Respondent’s new employees. The managing director, while giving a lecture on his authority, was questioned by the Claimant. Things became heated and Mr Major punched the Claimant, causing brain damage.

It was held at first instance that the company was not vicariously liable for the injuries as the managing director was not acting in the course of his employment. However, the Court of Appeal disagreed. In arriving at its decision, it found that there were two key matters to be considered, they were:

  1. The nature of the employee’s job – to be construed broadly and objectively; and
  2. Whether there was sufficient connection between his job and the wrongful conduct to render vicarious liability appropriate.

Significantly, in this case, Mr Major was the owner of the Respondent company and its most senior employee. Consequently, he had full control over how he conducted himself in his role as managing director. It was held that when he was lecturing his employees at the afterparty, Mr Major was acting in his role as managing director and seeking to establish his authority in said role.

In addition, the afterparty was not simply a standalone social event that happened to involve work colleagues, but a continuation of an organised work Christmas party, largely paid for by the company. As such, the Court of Appeal held that there was sufficient connection between the conduct of Mr Major and his role as managing director, thus finding the company vicariously liable for his actions.

It is important for employers to bear this case in mind, particularly as we approach Christmas party season.


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