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Vicarious Liability

The case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 2214 is a good example of the circumstances and extent to which employers can be held to be vicariously liable for the actions of their employees in the context of a personal injury.

Mr Bellman was a sales manager for the Northampton Recruitment Limited and Mr Major was the firm’s managing director. At the end of a works Christmas party, during which Mr Major and his employees enjoyed drinks paid for by the Company, an argument broke out about a new employee’s terms and conditions. Mr Major got cross and summoned a number of staff to give them a long lecture in an attempt to assert his authority. At one stage Mr Bellman challenged Mr Major who punched Mr Bellman, a punch which caused brain damage.

The Court of Appeal held that the company was vicariously liable for the actions of Mr Major. The key consideration was whether there was sufficient connection between Mr Major’s job and his wrongful conduct to render vicarious liability appropriate. Mr Major owned the company, he was its most senior employee and he was seeking to establish his authority in that role when lecturing the staff. In addition, this was not a social event unconnected to work but it immediately followed an organised works event attended by most of the company’s employees, where the company paid for the drinks and entertainment.

In those circumstances, there was a sufficient connection between Mr Major’s wrongful conduct and his role, and the company was held to be vicariously liable for his actions.

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