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Employer liability extended

Mohamud v Morrisons Supermarket

Cox v Ministry of Justice

Two important Supreme Court cases have been decided on the issue of vicarious liability. The effect is that employers may now be liable for the acts of employees (and others) in more situations than before.

In the Mohamud case, a claim was brought against Morrisons by a customer who had been assaulted by one of its employees on the forecourt of a Morrisons petrol station. The employer was held to be liable for the actions. There was a close enough connection between the employee’s actions and their employment. It was the employee’s job to attend to customers, and Morrisons was liable for his abuse of his position.

Cox v Ministry of Justice put a different slant on liability again. A prisoner, working in the prison kitchen, injured a catering manager by dropping a heavy bag of rice on her. The Ministry of Justice was liable, even though there was no contract of employment between it and the inmate. It was significant that the prisoner was an integral part of the Ministry of Justice’s business. Also that he was placed by the prison service in a position where there was a risk that he might commit a variety of negligent acts.

The key thing for employers to take from the widened scope of vicarious liability is to make sure that you take all reasonable steps to stop incidents happening. Policies and training are a useful indicator of your commitment to this.