Retailer Not Vicariously Liable for Sick Employee

Article

06 January, 2016

Frances Nicholls v ASDA Stores Ltd

Bristol County Court

The Claimant brought a claim personal injury after slipping on vomit whilst shopping in the defendant's supermarket. Immediately prior to the accident, one of the defendant's employees had vomited on the floor whilst urgently making her way to the bathroom. The claimant argued that ASDA was vicariously liable for its employee and was fixed of the relevant knowledge as soon as the vomit left the employee's mouth and landed on the floor.

The Judge disagreed and accepted that as the employee made her way to the bathroom she was not in a position to say anything to anybody. According to the CCTV evidence, the claimant slipped within 1 minute 10 secs of the employee being sick and 1 minute 23 seconds later the employee returned to clean up the sick.

The Judge held that the concept of vicarious liability is not the same as strict liability. A corporate entity can only act through its employees, the employee was not in a position to inform anyone of the hazard, and there is no evidence to suggest that anyone else was aware of the situation. The only person who knew that she was going to be sick was the employee, and she was not able to clean it up immediately.

There was no dispute that the defendant had appropriate systems in place for hazards on the floor and on that basis, the Judge dismissed the claim.

Forbes comment

To avoid being held vicariously liability for acts or omissions of employees, employers must be able to show that they have taken all reasonable steps to prevent such acts or omissions from occurring.

However, in this case despite having appropriate systems in place, given the timescales involved no reasonable system of inspection could have dealt with the spillage in time to prevent the claimant from slipping. It was simply a misfortunate sequence of events.

For further advice on the principle of vicarious liability contact Sarah Davisworth.

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