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what is Vicarious Liability?

23rd February 2016

Vicarious liability is when an innocent third party is regarded as being responsible for the unlawful action(s) of another. As a bold exception to conventional tort law rules, it is used sparingly and with circumspection.  It is not a ‘cure all’ for every hard luck case.

The range of situations deemed appropriate for a finding of vicarious liability has widened considerably over the past few years.  It is no longer the case that it is confined to the relationship of master and servant where a master, or someone who directed the actions of the servant, could be found liable for the negligent acts of the servant.  Recently the scope has been extended to encompass: a nightclub owner for a gratuitously vicious bouncer; the police for a homophobic officer; priests for the abuse of children; an unincorporated association for a bellicose sportsman and partners in a law firm for fraud committed by an employee.  However, there still is a requirement to establish a special relationship between the person committing the tort, or negligence, and the unwitting third party.  The recent case of Cox v. Ministry of Justice related to a catering officer in a prison.  The prisoners were carrying 25kg sacks of rice up some stairs when one sack split and its contents spilled over the steps.  The catering officer told the prisoners to stop and wait until it had been cleaned up because it was unsafe but one prisoner thought he knew better.  He ignored her and carried on regardless, slipping on the rice and dropping his load onto the catering officer injuring her in the process.

At first instance her claim was dismissed but on appeal the Court of Appeal upheld the appeal and found the Ministry of Justice vicariously liable for the prisoner’s actions.  This case is described as a ‘must read’ for practitioners seeking to navigate the treacherous and incompletely chartered waters around this area of the law.

Garry Sleet. Personal injury department

General, George Ide, News, Personal Injury Blog
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