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 pursue the investigation of the reports received by them at the time. The respondent appealed saying that the judge had incorrectly found the claimant to lack capacity.
Held: The judge had misdescribed the test for capacity, however, ‘on the question of whether section 28(1) applied . . the issue is certainly not one of discretion; nor is it an issue of primary fact. It is a matter of judgment, and one which is primarily for the first instance tribunal. There may, in an Aristotelian sense, be only one right answer to the question whether a claimant was able to conduct the litigation, but in this imperfect world, it must, in some cases, be an issue on which reasonable and fully informed Judges could differ. In such cases, and this is, in my view, such a one, an appellate court should not interfere with the Judge’s conclusion unless he has relied on irrelevant evidence, ignored relevant evidence, or misunderstood some evidence.’ The claimant was correctly found to lack capacity.
As to the vicarious liability of the archdiocese, the priest had not sought to draw the claimant within his ‘priestly activities’. This issue ‘although very much fact-dependant, is ultimately one of law rather than of inference from facts . .’ and ‘there are a number of factors, which, when taken together, persuade me that there was a sufficiently close connection between Father Clonan’s employment as priest at the Church and the abuse which he inflicted on the claimant to render it fair and just to impose vicarious liability for the abuse on his employer, the Archdiocese.’ Nevertheless, it was part of his duty to evangelise and befriend non-catholics. The claimant being 12, and the position of the priest in charge of youth activities also gave him special responsibilities. The claimant’s appeal succeeded.
As to the church’s duty to take the investigation further, the initial response was in accordance with standards and expectations at the time. The allegation whilst gross was not of the most serious, and it had been put to the priest who had denied it. However, having once been warned, the senior priest came under a duty to keep a closer eye on the priest. Had he done so further assaults would not have taken place. The church was liable for the acts of its senior priest. Applying the test from Caparo, the judge had been wrong to find no duty of care in the Archdiocese.
Lord Neuberger MR, Longmore LJ, Smith LJ
 EWCA Civ 256,  PTSR 1618,  1 WLR 1441
Limitation Act 1980 28(1)
England and Wales
Cited – Kirby v Leather CA 1965
The plaintiff crashed into a van whilst riding his moped and suffered serious brain damage. An inquiry as to a party’s competence to conduct a case had to focus on his capacity to conduct the proceedings. In this case the plaintiff ‘was not capable . .
Mentioned – 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 . .
Authoritative – 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 . .
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 – Caparo Industries Plc v Dickman and others HL 8-Feb-1990
Limitation of Loss from Negligent Mis-statement
The plaintiffs sought damages from accountants for negligence. They had acquired shares in a target company and, relying upon the published and audited accounts which overstated the company’s earnings, they purchased further shares.
Held: The . .
Cited – Lindsay v Wood QBD 16-Nov-2006
The claimant suffered severe brain injury in a crash. The parties sought guidance form the court as to his legal capacity.
Held: The fact that a party may be particularly susceptible to exploitation was a relevant element when considering his . .
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 . .
Applied – 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 . .
Cited – Masterman-Lister v Brutton and Co and Another (2) CA 16-Jan-2003
The claimant had been funded for a personal injury claim under legal aid. He appealed against a decision that he was not a ‘patient’ and that he had been fully capable of managing and administering his affairs for many years. He lost. The . .
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 – 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 . .
Appeal from – Maga v The Trustees of The Birmingham Archdiocese of The Roman Catholic Church QBD 22-Apr-2009
There was a sufficiently close connection between the employment of a priest at the church and the abuse which he inflicted on the claimant to render it fair and just to impose vicarious liability for the abuse on his employer, the Archdiocese. . .
Cited – Coulson v Newsgroup Newspapers Ltd QBD 21-Dec-2011
The claimant had been employed by the defendant as editor of a newspaper. On leaving they entered into an agreement which the claimant said required the defendant to pay his legal costs in any action arising regarding his editorship. The defendant . .
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 . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Torts – Other, Vicarious Liability, Limitation
Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.402951