Lister and Others -v- Hesley Hall Ltd; HL 3-May-2001

A school board employed staff to manage a residential school for vulnerable children. The staff committed sexual abuse of the children. The school denied vicarious liability for the acts of the teachers.
Held: ‘Vicarious liability is legal responsibility imposed on an employer, although he is himself free from blame, for a tort committed by his employee in the course of his employment.’ ‘Vicarious liability is a species of strict liability. It is not premised on any culpable act or omission on the part of the employer; an employer who is not personally at fault is made legally answerable for the fault of his employee. It is best understood as a loss-distribution device’ (Lord Millett) The court overruled earlier decisions to hold that the school was vicariously liable. The test is not just whether the abuse was an unauthorised way of carrying out tasks authorised as part of the employment. These acts had been committed on the premises and during the time when the staff should have been complying with their duty to care for the children. The connection of time and place, and the inextricable link between the acts of abuse and the employment, were sufficiently close to establish liability. Wrongful conduct must be so closely connected with acts the partner or employee was authorised to do that, for the purpose of the liability of the firm or the employer to third parties, the wrongful conduct may fairly and properly be regarded as done by the partner while acting in the ordinary course of the firm’s business or the employee’s employment.

Court: HL
Date: 03-May-2001
Judges: Lord Steyn, Lord Clyde, Lord Hutton, Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough, Lord Millett
Links: Bailii, House of Lords,
References: Times, 10-May-2001, Gazette, 14-Jun-2001, [2001] UKHL 22, [2002] 1 AC 215, [2001] 2 All ER 769, [2001] 2 FCR 97, (2001) 3 LGLR 49, [2001] NPC 89, [2001] Fam Law 595, [2001] 2 WLR 1311, [2001] IRLR 472, [2001] ICR 665, [2001] Emp LR 819, [2001] 2 FLR 307, [2001] ELR 422
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