01 November, 2018
Clive Bellman (A protected party by his litigation friend, Susan Thomas) v Northampton Recruitment Ltd (2018) EWCA Civ 2214
The Court of Appeal has held a company vicariously liable for an assault committed by its managing director on an employee after a Christmas party.
In 2010 the Claimant, Mr Bellman, attended a Christmas party organised by his employer at a local golf club. After the party ended half of the guests returned to their hotel and enjoyed unplanned after party drinks. In an unprovoked attack the managing director assaulted Mr Bellman. The Judge described that the assault was fuelled by alcohol. Mr Bellman was punched twice. On the second occasion he was knocked to the floor and suffered brain damage.
At first instance, the High Court found that the employer was not vicariously liable for the assault by the managing director. Firstly, the assault was committed after and not during an organised work social event. The incident occurred during "impromptu drinks" and was unconnected with the defendant's business.
The Court of Appeal unanimously allowed the appeal, finding that although the assault occurred at a separate drinking session after the party, the wrongdoer was not present merely as a fellow party goer but as managing director. The court considered the managing directors 'field of activities' and found that his remit and authority was very wide. He was the directing mind and will of the company. The assault occurred following a heated work related discussion where the managing director had attempted to re-assert his authority after he had been challenged regarding a managerial decision. The attack arose out of a misuse of the position entrusted to him as managing director. There was no suggestion that his behaviour arose as a result of something personal. Consequently, it was held that the company should be held vicariously liable for his actions.
As we approach the festive period, this case serves as a timely reminder that employers could be held vicariously liable for the acts of their employees if it can be shown that that there was a sufficient connection between the position in which the employee was employed and the wrongful conduct. Even if the action took place out of hours and outside of the office.
However, Lord Justice Irwin stressed this case does not provide an authority for the proposition that employers should become insurers for violent acts by their employees. He concluded that the combination of circumstances found in the instant case would arise very rarely. Liability should not arise merely because of an argument about work matters between colleagues where one was more senior than the other.