There has been a recent development in the law of tort and employers’ liability.
In the UK an individual will only be held liable for their own actions. However, if there is an established relationship between the defendant and the wrongdoer and if there is a connection between that relationship and the wrongdoers’ actions then the defendant can be liable. This is referred to as vicarious liability.
It should be noted that vicarious liability does not release the actual wrongdoer of liability. However, in most situations the wrongdoer cannot adequately compensate the victim and therefore because the action was connected closely enough to the employer and their regulations, the employer can be held liable.
The case of Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets, decided on 2nd March 2016, was regarding whether an assault by an employee towards a customer can be held as vicarious liability. The courts considered the nature of the job the employee was employed to do. They held that although the employee’s conduct, attacking the claimant, was “inexcusable”, it was within the field of activities the employee was employed to do as his role was to attend to customers and to respond to their enquiries.
The court found that the test for vicarious liability had been satisfied and the appeal was allowed. However many have argued that this decision has now broadened employers liability too far. It has potentially made it easier for both customers and co-workers to claim compensation from the employer when faced with issues regarding a member of staff’s unlawful actions (UK Supreme Court Blog, Nicola Waghorn, April 2016).
This case is important as despite the outcome, some argue it is difficult to see what more the employer could have done to limit their employers from committing legal acts. The employer had been found to have given sufficient training and clear instructions to the employee. However, the courts stress that rigorous recruitment processes and regular and enforced training to ensure the codes of conduct and work duties are being followed should be proof that the employer has tried to reduce the risk of claims. In this case, it was decided that the employer had not done this to the best of their ability.
Lord Reed argues that there now exists a modern theory of vicarious liability and that the doctrine is constantly changing and adapting to each individual case (Cox v Ministry of Justice, 2016) so there is potential for it to become even broader in the future. In addition, Justine Watkinson from Hillyer McKeown argues that Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets 2016 shows that the courts are prepared to extend vicarious liability beyond the established principles and the traditional employment relationship.
If you have a question about this article, or any area of employment law, please contact Justine Watkinson by clicking here.