Central Motors (Glasgow) Ltd v Cessnock Garage and Motor Co: 1925

A night watchman at a garage drove off in a car left there for his own purposes and damaged it.
Held: The garage had delegated to their employee the duty of keeping the car safely secured in the garage and they were liable to the owners of the car for his failure in performance. The Court noted the difficulty which can occur in deciding whether a particular act falls within the ‘purely personal and independent sphere of life and action’ which an employee may enjoy or within the sphere of service: ‘The question is not to be answered merely by applying the test whether the act in itself is one which the servant was employed or ordered or forbidden to do. The employer has to shoulder responsibility on a wider basis; and he may, and often does, become responsible to third parties for acts which he has expressly or impliedly forbidden the servant to do. A servant is not a mere machine continuously directed by his master’s hand, but is a person of independent volition and action, and the employer, when he delegates to him some duty which he himself is under obligation to discharge, must take the risk of the servant’s action being misdirected, when he is, for the time, allowed to be beyond his master’s control. It remains necessary to the master’s responsibility that the servant’s act be one done within the sphere of his service or the scope of his employment, but it may have this character although it consists in doing something which is the very opposite of what the servant has been intended or ordered to do, and which he does for his own private ends. An honest master does not employ or authorise his servant to commit crimes of dishonesty towards third parties; but nevertheless he may incur liability for a crime of dishonesty committed by the servant if it was committed by him within the field of activities which the employment assigned to him, and that although the crime was committed by the servant solely in pursuance of his own private advantage. The servant is a bad servant who has not faithfully served but has betrayed his master; still, quoad the third party injured, his dishonest act may fall to be regarded as an ill way of executing the work which has been assigned to him, and which he has been left with power to do well or ill.’


Lord Cullen, Lord President (Clyde)


1925 SC 796



Cited by:

CitedLister 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 . .
CitedCox v Ministry of Justice SC 2-Mar-2016
The claimant was working in a prison supervising working prisoners. One of them dropped a bag of rice on her causing injury. At the County Curt, the prisoner was found negligence in the prisoner, but not the appellant for vicarious liability. The . .
CitedMohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc SC 2-Mar-2016
The claimant had been assaulted and racially abused as he left a kiosk at the respondent’s petrol station by a member of staff. A manager had tried to dissuade the assailant, and the claim for damages against the supermarket had failed at first . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Vicarious Liability

Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.214710