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.
Lord Steyn, Lord Clyde, Lord Hutton, Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough, Lord Millett
Times 10-May-2001, Gazette 14-Jun-2001,  UKHL 22,  1 AC 215,  2 All ER 769,  2 FCR 97, (2001) 3 LGLR 49,  NPC 89,  Fam Law 595,  2 WLR 1311,  IRLR 472,  ICR 665,  Emp LR 819,  2 FLR 307,  ELR 422
Bailii, House of Lords
England and Wales
Appeal from – Lister and others v Hesley Hall Ltd CA 7-Oct-1999
Where a residential worker at a children’s home committed sexual abuse on children within his care, the company running the home were not vicariously liable for the acts themselves, but also were not responsible where the worker did not report his . .
Overruled – ST v North Yorkshire County Council CA 14-Jul-1998
The court considered the liability of the respondent for sexual assaults committed by an employee teacher when taking students on school trips.
Held: The Local Authority was not vicariously liable for sexual assault committed by employee . .
Cited – Lloyd v Grace, Smith and Co HL 1912
Mrs Lloyd delivered the title deeds of her cottages at Ellesmere Port to the solicitors’ managing clerk, who defrauded her.
Held: Vicarious liability can extend to fraudulent acts or omissions if those were carried out in the course of the . .
Cited – Canadian Pacific Railway Co v Lockhart PC 1941
When considering the imposition of vicarious liability, ‘the first consideration is the ascertainment of what the servant is employed to do.’ (Lord Thankerton) and ‘It is clear that the master is responsible for acts actually authorised by him: for . .
Cited – Racz v Home Office HL 17-Dec-1993
The Home Office can be liable for the actions of prison officers which amounted to an official misfeasance. The principles of vicarious liability apply as much to misfeasance in public office as to other torts involving malice, knowledge or . .
Cited – Morris v C W Martin and Sons Ltd CA 1965
The plaintiff took her mink stole to the defendants for cleaning. An employee received and stole the fur. The judge had held that the defendants were not liable because the theft was not committed in the course of employment.
Held: The . .
Cited – Williams v A and W Hemphill Ltd HL 1966
Against his employers’s instructions a driver of a lorry deviated substantially from his route. On the detour an accident occurred owing to the fault of the driver. The question arose whether the employers of the lorry driver were vicariously . .
Cited – Port Swettenham Authority v T W Wu and Co (M) Sdn Bhd PC 19-Jun-1978
A gratuitous bailee assumes a duty to take reasonable care of the chattel: ‘This standard, although high, may be a less exacting standard than that which the common law requires of a bailee for reward [but] the line between the two standards is a . .
Cited – Rose v Plenty CA 7-Jul-1975
Contrary to his employers orders, a milkman allowed children to assist him in his milkround. One was injured, and sued the milkman’s employer.
Held: The milkman had not gone so far outside the activities for which he was employed for the . .
Cited – Ilkiw v Samuels CA 1963
The plaintiff was injured by the careless manouvering of a lorry by the defendant’s employee.
Held: When considering the vicarious liability of an employer, the proper approach to the nature of the servant’s employment is a broad one. . .
Cited – Photo Production Ltd v Securicor Transport Ltd HL 14-Feb-1980
Interpretation of Exclusion Clauses
The plaintiffs had contracted with the defendants for the provision of a night patrol service for their factory. The perils the parties had in mind were fire and theft. A patrol man deliberately lit a fire which burned down the factory. It was an . .
Approved – Jacobi v Griffiths 17-Jun-1999
(Canadian Supreme Court) The process for determining when a non-authorised act by an employee is so connected to the employer’s enterprise that liability should be imposed involved two steps: 1. Firstly a court should determine whether there are . .
Approved – Bazley v Curry 17-Jun-1999
(Canadian Supreme Court) The court considerd the doctrine of vicarious liability: ‘The policy purposes underlying the imposition of vicarious liability on employers are served only where the wrong is so connected with the employment that it can be . .
Cited – Sanderson v Collins CA 1904
The defendant’s coachman had taken out for his own purposes a dog-cart which belonged to the plaintiff and had been lent to the defendant.
Held: The defendant was not vicariously liable for the coachman’s actions: ‘If the servant in doing any . .
Cited – Kilboy v South Eastern Fire Area Joint Committee 1952
The court discussed the rule of respondeat superior: ‘What was once presented as a legal principle has degenerated into a rule of expediency, imperfectly defined, and changing its shape before our eyes under the impact of changing social and . .
Cited – Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd v Shatwell HL 6-Jul-1964
The respondent was employed as a shot firer in a quarry, and was to test the electric wiring connecting explosive charges. Contrary to instructions that testing must be done from a shelter, the respondent and another shot firer carried out a test in . .
Cited – Staveley Iron and Chemical Co Ltd v Jones HL 1956
The court must avoid treating every risky act by an employee due to familiarity with the work or some inattention resulting from noise or strain as contributory negligence: ‘ . . in Factory Act cases the purpose of imposing the absolute obligation . .
Cited – Kirby v National Coal Board OHCS 1958
The court considered the degree of connection necessary between the act of an employee and his employer’s business to establish liability under the rule respondeat superior: ‘four different types of situation have been envisaged as guides to the . .
Cited – Plumb v Cobden Flour Mills Co Ltd HL 1914
In looking at restrictions by an employer to limit his vicarious liability, the court must distinguish between prohibitions which limit the sphere of employment and those which only deal with conduct within the sphere of employment:’ ‘there are . .
Cited – Tower Boot Company Limited v Jones CA 11-Dec-1996
An employer’s liability for racial abuse by its employees is wider than its liability under the rules of vicarious liability. The statute created new obligations. Sex and race discrimination legislation seeks to eradicate the ‘very great evil’ of . .
Cited – Century Insurance v Northern Ireland Road Transport Board HL 4-Mar-1942
Vicarious liability applied, where the lighting of a match to light a cigarette and throwing it on the floor while transferring petrol from a lorry to a tank was held to be in the scope of employment. . .
Cited – Deatons Pty Ltd v Flew 12-Dec-1949
(High Court of Australia). A barmaid employed by the appellant threw first the beer from a glass, and then the glass in a customer’s face causing injury. The company appealed a find of vicarious liability.
Held: The act of the barmaid was not . .
Cited – Irving and Irving v Post Office CA 1987
The defendant’s employee disliked his neighbours – the plaintiffs. Whilst working in the sorting office, he wrote racially abusive materials on letters addressed to them. The plaintiffs appealed a finding that the defendant was not liable because . .
Cited – 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 . .
Cited – Ward v Scotrail Railways Limited SCS 27-Nov-1998
The claimant sought damages from the defender, saying that a co-worker had sexually harrassed her. The behaviour continued after she made a complaint to her employer.
Held: It was conceded that the employee’s conduct was not such as to attract . .
Cited – Aldred v Nacanco CA 1987
The claimant sought damages. At the end of the day, a co-employee tried to startle her by pushing an insecure washbasin against her, but caused her actual injury.
Held: The plaintiff’s appeal was dismissed. It was an independent act not . .
Cited – Meux v Great Eastern Railway Co 1895
The plaintiff sought damages from the railway company for carelessly damaging his goods even though he did not himself have a contract with the company.
Held: A duty was owed by the railway company towards the goods owner, applying cases which . .
Cited – Gilchrist Watt and Sanderson Pty Ltd v York Products Pty Ltd PC 1970
(New South Wales – Australia) The defendants were stevedores who had lost two cases of clocks that they had received as sub-bailees of the shipowners, who in turn owed a duty to deliver them to the plaintiffs under the bills of lading.
Held: . .
Cited – Barwick v English Joint Stock Bank 1867
When considering the vicarious liability of a master for the acts of his servant, no sensible distinction could be drawn between the case of fraud and any other wrong. The general rule was that: ‘the master is answerable for every such wrong of the . .
Cited – Foulkes v Metropolitan District Railway Co 1880
The court considered the liability of a railway company where the plaintiff had bought his ticket from one railway company, but claimed liability from another which had undertaken responsibility for part of the services to be rendered to the . .
Cited – Dyer v Munday; Morris v Martin CA 1895
The defendant, a hire purchase furniture dealer, sent his manager to recover back some furniture hired to X and upon which several instalments were unpaid. X had pledged the furniture to his landlord as security for his rent, and the landlord’s wife . .
Cited – Warren v Henlys Ltd 1948
A garage attendant, as an act of personal vengeance, assaulted a customer of the garage. A customer at a petrol station was abused by the attendant as he drove off without paying. The customer then paid. He complained to the police officer he found . .
Cited – Mattis v Pollock (T/A Flamingo’s Nightclub) CA 1-Jul-2003
A nightclub employed an unlicensed bouncer/doorman. After an altercation in and outside the club, he went home, and returned armed and seriously assaulted the customer.
Held: The club had vicarious liability for his acts. There was a . .
Cited – Dubai Aluminium Company Limited v Salaam and Others HL 5-Dec-2002
Partners Liable for Dishonest Act of Solicitor
A solicitor had been alleged to have acted dishonestly, having assisted in a fraudulent breach of trust by drafting certain documents. Contributions to the damages were sought from his partners.
Held: The acts complained of were so close to . .
Cited – The Attorney General v Hartwell PC 23-Feb-2004
PC (The British Virgin Islands) A police officer had taken the police revolver, and used it to shoot the claimant. It was alleged that the respondent police force were vicariously liable for his acts and also . .
Cited – Frans Maas (Uk) Ltd v Samsung Electronics (Uk) Ltd ComC 30-Jun-2004
A large volume of mobile phones were stolen from a warehouse. The owner claimed damages from the bailee. The defendant said that standard terms applied limiting their responsibility to value calculated by weight.
Held: There was a bailment . .
Cited – Mattis v Pollock (T/A Flamingo’s Nightclub) QBD 24-Oct-2002
The claimant sought damages after being assaulted by a doorman employed by the defendant.
Held: The responsibility of the nightclub owner for the actions of his aggressive doorman was not extinguished by the separation in time and place from . .
Considered – Balfron Trustees Ltd v Peterson CA 2001
The court analysed in detail the decision in Lister v Hesley Hall and continued: ‘All of these passages emphasise the necessity of identifying the duty or responsibility of the employer to the victim. If such a duty or responsibility exists, the . .
Cited – Cercato-Gouveia v Kiprianou and Another CA 17-Jul-2001
Application for permission to appeal. Granted. An employer might be vicariously liable to one employee for the acts of another employee to whom he had delegated some of his duties to the claimant employee. . .
Cited – Bernard v The Attorney General of Jamaica PC 7-Oct-2004
PC (Jamaica) The claimant had been queuing for some time to make an overseas phone call at the Post Office. Eventually his turn came, he picked up the phone and dialled. Suddenly a man intervened, announced . .
Cited – Brown v Robinson and Sentry PC 14-Dec-2004
(Jamaica) The deceased claimant had been shot by a sentry employed by the respondent company. His estate appealed a finding that the sentry was not acting in the course of his employment.
Held: Older authorities had now been replaced by recent . .
Cited – Hutchinson v Metropolitan Police Commissioner and Another QBD 27-Jul-2005
The claimant sought damages for assault by a probationary constable. The constable had been called to a drunken party for Sainsbury’s employees.
Held: The claimant had been assaulted. Miss Morgan had introduced herself as a police officer, had . .
Cited – Majrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust CA 16-Mar-2005
The claimant had sought damages against his employer, saying that they had failed in their duty to him under the 1997 Act in failing to prevent harassment by a manager. He appealed a strike out of his claim.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The . .
Cited – Majrowski v Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust HL 12-Jul-2006
Employer can be liable for Managers Harassment
The claimant employee sought damages, saying that he had been bullied by his manager and that bullying amounting to harassment under the 1997 Act. The employer now appealed a finding that it was responsible for a tort committed by a manager, saying . .
Cited – Helen Green v DB Group Services (UK) Ltd QBD 1-Aug-2006
The claimant sought damages from her former employers, asserting that workplace bullying and harassment had caused injury to her health. She had had a long term history of depression after being abused as a child, and the evidence was conflicting, . .
Cited – Gravil v Carroll and Another CA 18-Jun-2008
The claimant was injured by an unlawful punch thrown by the first defendant when they played rugby. He sought damages also against the defendant’s club, and now appealed from a finding that they were not vicariously liable. The defendant player’s . .
Authoritative – Maga v The Trustees of The Birmingham Archdiocese of The Roman Catholic Church CA 16-Mar-2010
The claimant appealed against rejection of his claim for damages after alleging sexual abuse by a catholic priest. The judge had found the church not vicariously liable for the injuries, and that the archdiocese had not been under a duty further to . .
Cited – Weddall v Barchester Healthcare Ltd CA 24-Jan-2012
Parties appealed against judgments dismissing their claims of vicarious liability as against their employers after assaults by co-employees.
Held: Appeals were dismissed and allowed according to their facts.
In one case, one employee . .
Cited – Reynolds v Strutt and Parker LLP ChD 15-Jul-2011
The defendant had organised a team bonding day, including a cycling event. The claimant employee was severely injured falling from his cycle. He said that the defendant had been engligent in not providing cycling helmets. The circuit hosting company . .
Cited – The Catholic Child Welfare Society and Others v Various Claimants and The Institute of The Brothers of The Christian Schools and Others SC 21-Nov-2012
Law of vicarious liability is on the move
Former children at the children’s homes had sought damages for sexual and physical abuse. The court heard arguments as to the vicarious liability of the Society for abuse caused by a parish priest visiting the school. The Court of Appeal had found . .
Cited – Graham v Commercial Bodyworks Ltd CA 5-Feb-2015
The claimant had been very badly burned. He was covered in flammable liquid when a co-worker lit a cigarette.
Held: The claimant’s appeal failed. ‘although the defendant employers did create a risk by requiring their employees to work with . .
Cited – Jetivia Sa and Another v Bilta (UK) Ltd and Others SC 22-Apr-2015
The liquidators of Bilta had brought proceedings against former directors and the appellant alleging that they were party to an unlawful means conspiracy which had damaged the company by engaging in a carousel fraud with carbon credits. On the . .
Cited – Cox 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 . .
Confirmed – Mohamud 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 . .
Cited – Armes v Nottinghamshire County Council SC 18-Oct-2017
The claimant had been abused as a child by foster parents with whom she had been placed by the respondent authority. The court was now asked, the Council not having been negligent, were they in any event liable having a non-delegable duty of care . .
Cited – Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd CA 12-Jan-2022
Explosive pellet not part of employee’s role.
The claimant worked on a site operated by the respondent. One of the respondent’s employees exploded two pellet targets injuring the claimant’s hearing. He asserted vicarious liability in the respondent. There had been tensions between the claimant . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Vicarious Liability, Education
Updated: 14 January 2022; Ref: scu.162910