Vicarious Liability: Assault at Christmas Party

20 December 2016

Is a company vicariously liable for injuries caused by an employee after a work Christmas party has ended?

No, held the High Court in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment.

The case involved an assault of a manager by a director after a Christmas party. Following a work Christmas party the two, along with other colleagues, went on to a hotel and continued drinking until the assault occurred at 3.00 am. The assault caused serious brain injury to the manager and the decision was taken to sue the company, and in effect its insurers, rather than the director personally.

The question arose whether at the time the director struck the blow, was he 'acting in the course or scope of his employment" so as to make the company vicariously liable? The Judge held that the company could have been liable if the blow had been struck during the Christmas party itself, but the assault in the hotel occurred after the party during a private drinking session and so the company was not vicariously liable.

The judgment provides useful analysis of the authorities on various liability, and a timely reminder to companies that they could be held responsible for improper behaviour at works events, especially where alcohol is flowing freely.

With thanks to Daniel Barnett’s employment law bulletin which provided the details of this case.