Vicarious liability

Vicarious liability

The High Court has recently looked at another Christmas party case where an employee was injured and then sued her employer. In Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK, the employer held a Christmas party for its staff at its research institute. They did a risk assessment before the party and took appropriate steps including hiring security to prevent access to research labs. At the party, an employee was seriously injured on the dance floor after being picked up and accidentally dropped by a scientist.

The employee sued her employer for negligence and vicarious liability. The County Court dismissed her claims, so she appealed. The High Court confirmed that the employer owed the employee a duty of care but not the extent the employee alleged. She said that for parties involving alcohol, the heightened risk of inappropriate behaviour required extra steps. These included requiring attendees to sign a declaration saying they wouldn’t behave inappropriately, a risk assessment covering the risks posed by potential inappropriate behaviour, and trained staff at the party to look out for it.

The High Court said the employee’s list of requirements was not reasonable for any Christmas party. The employer’s risk assessment was adequate. It did not have to deal with the risk of someone who had consumed alcohol doing something untoward on the dance floor. The employer was not vicariously liable for the injury either. The scientist’s role with Cancer Research was his research work. This was not sufficiently connected with what happened at the party to give rise to vicarious liability.

This case shows how fact dependent vicarious liability cases are. The result in this case differs from the Court of Appeal’s findings in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment last year. In that case, the injury took place at an after party, but where the protagonist had chosen to wear his ‘MD’ hat to lecture his staff, one of whom he punched when they challenged him. That provided sufficient connection between his work and the injury. That connection was not present in the present case.

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