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Supreme Court finds Morrisons liable for employee assault

Lawyers for survivors of abuse welcome Supreme Court judgment which clarifies when an employer should be held liable for the actions of its employees

Posted on 03 March 2016

The Supreme Court Judgment yesterday (2 March 2016) clarified the test of when companies should be held liable for an intentional wrongful act that causes harm to someone else – known in law as an ‘intentional tort’ - committed by an employee.

The Court heard how in 2008, Mr Mohamud asked a Morrisons petrol station kiosk assistant, Mr Khan, if it was possible to print documents he had on a USB stick. Mr Khan then followed Mr Mohamud onto the forecourt and repeatedly punched and kicked him, in what appears to have been a racially motivated attack.

Since 2001 it has been accepted in law that an employer should be held liable for the actions of its employees which are “closely connected” to their employment.

The Court of Appeal had agreed with this and stated that Morrisons was not liable because “Mr Khan’s duties did not involve any element of public order or exercising authority over the customer”, and “his instructions were not to engage in any form of confrontation with a customer”.

However, the Supreme Court judgment handed down today, held Morrisons liable because it is not right to consider that Mr Khan “metaphorically [took] off his uniform the moment he stepped from behind the counter”.

His interaction with Mr Mohamud was “a seamless episode” in which Mr Khan told the claimant never to return to the petrol station, an order which was in connection with the business in which he was employed.

According to lawyers at Leigh Day today’s judgment sets straight the Court of Appeal’s “worrying” interpretation of this well-established vicarious liability test.

Vicarious liability can be an important feature of civil claims brought on behalf of individuals who were abused as children. This judgment confirms that in many circumstances such survivors are able to take action for compensation against the school, company, institution or organisation that employed the abuser.

This can be particularly important where the individual abuser does not have the funds to meet a judgment against them for compensation. In such cases survivors often need to access medical treatment, counselling, education and therapy to assist them on their road to recovery and may need to bring a claim against the employer.