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Christmas parties - Employer vicarious liability

7th December 2016

In the recent case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd, the High Court considered the extent of an employer’s vicarious liability for an assault after a work Christmas party had ended.

Northampton Recruitment held a Christmas party at a golf club.  After the party had ended, around half the guests proceeded to a hotel to continue drinking.  At 3am, following heated discussions about work, Mr Major, a Director, punched Mr Bellman, an employee of the company.  Mr Bellman was knocked unconscious, fell and hit his head on the ground and suffered brain damage.  Mr Bellman brought a claim for damages against Northampton Recruitment alleging that it was vicariously liable for Mr Major’s actions.

In order to succeed in a claim of this type, the Pursuer requires to demonstrate that an assault by an employee was carried out in the course of employment. Whilst the court recognised that an employer can be liable for assaults by employees at work social events, such as a Christmas party, it held that, as the party had ended, the gathering at the hotel was not in the course of employment. The court also rejected a submission that the conversation about work immediately before the assault meant that the assault was in the course of employment. It considered that this would push the boundaries of vicarious liability too far.

It is important to note that, had the assault taken place during the Christmas party in the golf club, the court would have found this to have been in the course of employment and would have held that the company was vicariously liable.

For further information please contact: Steven Harte

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