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04th April 2016

Vicarious Liability

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In the recent case of Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc, the Supreme Court considered whether Morrisons was vicariously liable for a violent attack by one of its employees upon a customer.

The principle of vicarious liability is such that employers can be liable for certain acts of wrongdoing committed by their employees where there is a sufficient connection between that act and their employment. In order to determine whether an employer will be liable for the act of its employees, the following two-stage test is applied:

1. Is there a relationship between the parties which is capable of giving rise to vicarious liability, i.e an employment relationship? 
2. Is there a close connection between the employment and the wrongful act that means it would be just and reasonable to impose liability?

In the Morrisons case, Mr Mohamud, was a customer at a petrol station based at a Morrisons store. Following an altercation with the Morrisons’ employee manning the kiosk at the petrol station, Mr Khan, Mr Mohamud was subjected to a violent attack. Mr Khan followed Mr Mohamud out of the kiosk and on to the petrol station’s forecourt, punched Mr Mohamud in the head and then continued punching and kicking him to the ground. In carrying out the attack, Mr Khan ignored the instructions of his supervisor, who tried to stop him from attacking Mr Mohamud.

Mr Mohamud brought a personal injury claim against Morrisons claiming that Morrisons was vicariously liable for the attack upon him. As there was clearly an employment relationship that was comparable of giving rise to vicarious liability, the case considered the second part of the test referred to above; whether Mr Khan’s actions were closely connected to his employment so as to justify imposing liability on Morrisons.

At first instance, a court held that Morrisons was not vicariously liable for the attack as there was no close connection between Mr Khan’s actions and his employment with Morrisons. Mr Mohamud appealed to the Court of Appeal which also held that Morrisons were not vicariously liable. The Court found that as Mr Khan’s duties did not involve the possibility of confrontation, or place him in a situation where an outbreak of violence was likely, his actions were not closely connected to his employment.

Mr Mohamud appealed to the Supreme Court which allowed the appeal. It held that the acts of Mr Khan were sufficiently connected to his employment. Mr Khan's role was to attend to the customers of the petrol station. When Mr Khan undertook the attack on Mr Mohamud he was undertaking these duties. Whilst Mr Khan’s actions were clearly an abuse of his position, the attack was carried out in connection with the business of serving customers. Therefore in all of the circumstances the Supreme Court held that it was just that Morrisons should be liable for Mr Khan’s actions.

This case is a stark reminder to employers of the extent to which they can be responsible for their employee’s actions, even if these actions are not authorised by the employer.

For more information and advice, our specialist Employment Team will be happy to help. Please click here to email Gemma Hill or call her on 01604 463309.