Vicarious Liability: A Christmas party warning

As Christmas office party season is in full swing we give you a timely reminder of how, or how not, to behave. In Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd [2016] EWHC 3104 (QB), the classic question of ‘was he acting in the course of his employment?’ arose, after a fight broke out between a director and a manager on the night of the work's Christmas party. In this case, following the Christmas party, the director, manager and other colleagues went to a hotel bar to continue the festivities. At around 3am, unprovoked, the director punched the manager twice, the second blow knocking him to the floor and causing him to strike his head. The assault left the manager with a serious brain injury. Rather than sue the director personally, the manager attempted to sue the company (aka its insurers) on the basis that it was vicariously liable for the director’s actions.

The Judge found in favour of the company, noting that otherwise “the company’s potential liability would become so wide as to be potentially uninsurable”. Commenting on the social justice principle that the vicarious liability rule arose out of he said, “The rule must have proper boundaries; it is not endless.”  He held that the after-party drinks at the hotel were spontaneous and post event, and not a seamless extension of the company’s Christmas party. He said what happened after the company party “arose in the context of entirely voluntary and personal choices by those present…” adding that “Even assuming that the company paid or was expected to pay for some or most of the eventual bill, I cannot see any increased risk of confrontation arising from the additional alcohol at the hotel as properly adding support to a finding of vicarious liability, as it was so far removed from employment”.

Published: 20 December 2016

Article Sections: Disciplinary matters | Miscellaneous

Archives: 2016 | December

The data contained within this document is for general information only. No responsibility can be accepted for inaccuracies. Readers are also advised that the law and practice may change from time to time. This document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.