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Friday, 4 March 2016

Supreme Court extends concept of vicarious liability

In Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc [2016] UKSC 11 (2 March 2016)  the Supreme Court has taken a rather radical view of the doctrine of vicarious liability. Normally it would operate to make an employer liable for the acts of its employees in the course of doing their jobs: here, however, the employer was held liable for what might normally be considered a frolic of the employee's own - attacking a customer, apparently without provocation - on the basis that it was part of his job to attend to customers. The contretemps had begun at the cash desk where the employee was working, but he left it and followed the claimant to his car where he assaulted him. This, it was argued, broke nexus necessary for the traditional "close connection" test to be satisfied, and the claimant's lawyers had argued for a "representative capacity" test to be used instead - but the court considered this unnecessary, and found that the necessary close connection was indeed present.

"In the present case it was [the employee's] job to attend to
customers and to respond to their inquiries," said Lord Toulson in his
leading judgment. "His conduct in answering the claimant's request in a
foul-mouthed way and ordering him to leave was inexcusable but within
the 'field of activities' assigned to him. What happened thereafter was
an unbroken sequence of events."

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