News and Events

Company Liability over Festive Fisticuffs

  • Posted

Another recent case has considered how far an employer’s liability extends, following a Christmas party.

In the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd (NR Ltd), the High court was required to consider if a Company can be held responsible, ‘vicariously liable’, for an assault that took place on an employee by the Managing Director.

NR Ltd had held their Christmas party at a golf club. Following the party, a few decided to go onto a hotel to carry on drinking. Unfortunately, conversations became heated and following an inebriated rant, the Managing Director punched an employee, Mr Bellman, causing serious brain injury. Mr Bellman sued NR Ltd rather than the Director personally, claiming that the company was vicariously liable for the Director’s actions.

The pivotal question when deciding if the Company was liable, was whether the Director was “acting in the course or scope of his employment”? The High Court rejected this. The assault had not taken place during the Christmas party itself, which took place without incident, but during a private impromptu drinking session that had not been organised by the Company. As such, the Company was not found to be vicariously liable. They found that a line could be drawn between the two parties.

Although not expressly stated, had the assault happened at the main party, vicarious liability would have been established despite it being outside of working hours and away from the Company’s premises. A timely reminder to all Companies who have been holding events where alcohol has been freely flowing!