The Court of Appeal has recently considered two cases regarding the issue of when an employer is liable for the conduct of an employee (known as vicarious liability) where that employee assaults another.
In Weddall v Barchester Healthcare an employee, Mr Weddall phoned another employee, Mr Marsh and asked him to work a night shift. Mr Marsh not only refused but turned up at his workplace and assaulted Mr Weddall, who them claimed damages from his employer (Barchester Healthcare) on the grounds that the latter was responsible for the actions of Mr Marsh.
The Court held that Mr Marsh was “acting personally for his own reasons” and he had used Mr Weddall’s request to come to work as a “pretext for an act of violence” unconnected with his work. As such, the employer was not vicariously liable for the assault.
In Wallbank v Wallbank Fox Designs Ltd, Mr Brown was responsible for loading items on to a conveyer belt which passed through an oven. His boss, Mr Wallbank was concerned by the lack of items which Mr Brown had loaded and he went to the conveyer belt to add more. He then summoned Mr Brown to help him whereupon Mr Brown assaulted Mr Wallbank by throwing him on to a table and injuring him.
The Court held that “the employer should bear vicarious liability for the spontaneous force by which the employee reacted to the instruction give to him”. Mr Brown assaulted Mr Wallbank “in immediate response to instructions given to him” and hence he was “acting in the course of his employment”. The employer was accordingly liable to pay damages to Mr Wallbank because of Mr Brown’s conduct.