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Aftermaths of the Christmas party: Vicarious Liability

Following on from our earlier article this month, I think it’s safe to assume that most of you have had your Christmas party. For the majority, I’m sure it’s been a pleasant experience, however, for some, the night may not have ended as pleasantly as it had begun. This raises the question of when a company is vicariously liable for an assault at a Christmas party. 

This question was recently answered by the High Court in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment; in this case Mr Bellman, a manager, was seriously injured as a result of an assault by Mr Major, a company director, following a Christmas party. The assault caused brain injury, and the decision was taken to sue the company, and in effect its insurers, rather than Mr Major personally. 

When examining the question of whether or not Mr Major was “acting in the course or scope of his employment” as to make the company vicariously liable, the court held he was not. The pertinent fact was that the blow was struck during a private drinking session that was at a different venue to the Christmas party, and where a smaller group attended. While the court was extremely sympathetic towards Mr Bellman, the incident was described as a “frolic” of its own and not part of the company Christmas party. This was regardless of the fact that the company paid for taxi’s to the secondary drinking venue and for the drinks at the venue. 


While it was a lucky escape for Northampton Recruitment, it is important to note that the outcome would have been quite different if the blow had been struck at the party itself or even if the ‘after party’  had remained at the same venue. 

The judgement remains to be a timely reminder that companies can be held for improper behaviour at work events, especially where alcohol is flowing freely. 

If you are dealing with a disciplinary or grievance relating to an assault or any other post-Christmas party issue, and need some guidance, please contact me on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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