If you have been injured at work by the negligence of a fellow employee or in any situation by a person who was acting in the course of their employment, your claim can be based on what is known as vicarious liability.
Often there will be other grounds of claim too but the most common use of negligence as a means of winning an employer’s liability case is vicarious liability.
Vicarious liability is the legal doctrine that shifts the blame for an injury onto a person or organisation that did not directly cause the injury but which employed the person who did act negligently.
The employer has to take responsibility for the negligence of the employee because the employee is deemed to be an agent of the employer. If an employee is to blame for causing an accident and was acting within the general scope of his or her employment at the time, the injured person will be able to claim against the employer.
The theory of vicarious liability is one thing. In practice, it is not always straightforward to determine whether vicarious liability will apply in a particular case.
The law has had to try to get to grips with a variety of complicating factors.
One example is where the injuries inflicted by the employee were deliberate rather than negligent. Another example is where one employee has been injured by another as a result of high jinks or a prank that has misfired.
In general terms, the development of the law over the last ten years or so has been to widen the scope of vicarious liability. There have been a number of high profile cases in that period involving alleged deliberate sexual abuse of children in boarding schools or similar environments and in these claims it was the limits of vicarious liability that were being tested.
An extreme example of deliberate injury still resulting in vicarious liability applying is the case of Mattis –v- Pollock. In 1998, Mattis was left paraplegic as a result of being stabbed by a doorman at a nightclub run by Pollock. The doorman was convicted of assault and given a prison sentence.
On the night of the injury, there was an altercation in the club involving the doorman, Mattis and some others. The doorman left the club and went back to his nearby flat where he got a knife. On returning to the vicinity of the club, he stabbed Mattis.
The English Court of Appeal had to determine whether the doorman’s acts were still within the scope of his employment at the time he injured Mattis. The court was satisfied that the doorman’s attack was so closely associated with what his employer authorised or expected him to do in the performance of his duties as a doorman that liability should be imposed on Pollock.
If you have suffered injury as the result of the actings of a person who was or may have been “at work” at the time of the incident, it is important to get expert legal advice as soon as possible. One of the things it will be crucial to consider is whether a claim based on vicarious liability can be made out.