A Company is Held Vicariously Liable after an Assault at a Christmas Night Out

Author: Mitchells Roberton
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The festive season is now over for another year with all the work Christmas parties attended and hopefully enjoyed by everyone. We all love a work Christmas night out but unfortunately a recent case  Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd  (2018) heard by the Court of Appeal has caused concerns for employers and businesses.

The Court heard that at the time of the incident in 2011 Mr Major was the Managing Director and a shareholder of Northampton Recruitment Ltd .Mr Bellman was employed by the company as Sales Manager.  The men had been friends since childhood. Before the office Christmas party a new employee had started at the company and rumours were circulating that this new person was earning significantly more than other employees.

The office Christmas party was held at a golf club and quite a few employees had booked into a nearby hotel to stay overnight. When the party at the golf club ended some of the hotel guests went back to the hotel and continued to drink.

In the small hours of the morning the issue of the new employee had been raised whereupon Mr Major became very agitated at being questioned about this new person stating that he was free to do as he wanted. Mr Bellman in a non aggressive fashion challenged him and Mr Major lost his temper punching Mr Bellman twice. Unfortunately Mr Bellman sustained brain damage resulting in him being unlikely to work again.

Mr Bellman wanted the company, Northampton Recruitment Ltd, to be found vicariously liable for the altercation at the hotel.  Vicarious liability occurs where someone is held responsible for the acts or omissions of another person. In a work situation an employer can be held liable for the acts or omissions of its employees provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.

Originally the High Court had ruled that the company was not vicariously liable for this incident but Mr Bellman lodged an appeal. He argued that the assault had occurred as a direct result of him and fellow employees questioning Mr Major about issues in the company and Mr Major responding by asserting his position and authority within the company. The Court of Appeal agreed and held that the company would be held vicariously liable for Mr Bellman’s injuries that night.

It is important to remember that every case turns on its own facts and circumstances. In this case the participants had attended the hotel drinks as employees. The wrongdoer Mr Major was the Managing Director and as such, effectively the sole decision maker of the company. The assault occurred in the course of Mr Major exerting his authority.

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