Assault At The Christmas Party: Who’s Liable?
It’s that time of year again, where merriment and spirits are high and offices all over the country are gearing towards their annual Christmas parties.
Usually, the office Christmas party is an excuse for a jolly good time and getting dressed up with your co-workers, but sadly sometimes tensions can arise and a fight can break out. This is classed as assault and the injured party may choose to make a claim. But who is really to blame? The assailant or the employer?
Vicarious liability refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the acts or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.
The High Court in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment held that a company is not vicariously liable for injuries caused by an employee after a work Christmas party has ended.
The case involved an assault of a manager by a director. The assault occurred after the Christmas party at 3:00am when both parties attended a private drinking session at a hotel. The assault caused serious brain injury to the manager and the decision was taken to sue the company, and its insurers, rather than the director personally.
The question arose whether at the time the director inflicted the assault, was he ‘acting in the course or scope of his employment’ so as to make the company vicariously liable? The judge held that the company could have been liable if the assault had taken place during the Christmas party, but as the assault occurred after the party, the company was not vicariously liable.