The Scope of Liability


In law, an employer is vicariously liable for the actions of an employee where they are in the ?course or scope of employment? dependent upon the closeness of the connection between the employee in question and the circumstances of the event itself.

The unfortunate Christmas tale of Mr Bellman and Northampton Recruitment Ltd might not rank alongside Ebenezer Scrooge in the Dickens classic but it was a rather interesting one from a legal perspective.

The company held the annual Christmas party at a local golf club for its employees, a few of which invited their partners along to the event with 24 in attendance altogether.

The party itself passed without major incident and a few revellers decided to continue the festivities at a nearby hotel in taxis paid for by the Company. It is understood that the Company also picked up the tab for the drinks, both at the golf club and the hotel.

All was going with the normal tidings of the season when the conversation turned to work and after a while resulted in the altercation and assault by the Company?s MD, Mr Major on Mr Bellman.

Mr Bellman was knocked to the floor by the assault with him striking his head and suffering a “very severe traumatic brain injury”.

Mr Bellman brought a claim against the company for the injuries suffered on the basis that it was vicariously liable for the actions of Mr Major.


Despite expressing sympathy for Mr Bellman as he was shown to be the innocent party even though Mr Major had tried to indicate otherwise, the Judge concluded that the Company was not vicariously liable as Mr Major was not acting in the course of his employment.

He considered that the drinks at the hotel were not closely connected such that the company was liable for Mr Major?s actions.? The Judge took into account the following:

As Managing Director, Mr Major had overall charge of all aspects of the company’s business. His remit was wide and he was the ?directing mind and will? of the company. One of the roles included motivation of employees which, in turn, included reward and benefits such as Christmas parties, provision of drinks and taxis. Despite the wide range of responsibilities, Mr Major was not always ?on duty?.

There was an expectation that employees would attend the Christmas party and the party could, therefore, be considered an extension of work.

The assault on Mr Bellman took place after the Christmas party during an “impromptu drink”. There was no obligation on employees or guests of the Christmas party to go on to the hotel and a number did not. Some went to bed.? The impromptu drinks at the hotel were not a seamless extension of the Christmas party and not an extension of work.

The fact that the assault took place after the conversation had turned from social to work matters did not, in the Judge’s view, change this.? It did not turn what was by then a social incident into work.

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