Businesses could be liable if an employee commits a negligent act while at work, the Supreme Court has ruled.
The landmark judgement, which was confirmed this week, will have considerable consequences on the way employers train and monitor their staff, according to law firm Kirwans.
Kirwans have called the judgement “extremely significant” and one that could have far-reaching implications. The warning comes after Morrisons were held responsible for the actions of an employee who kicked and punched a customer at a store’s petrol forecourt in Birmingham in 2008.
Ahmed Mahmoud, who was assaulted by Morrison’s worker Amjid Khan on the supermarket’s premises, the Supreme Court ruled Morrisons were “vicariously liable” for Mr Khan’s actions. This means, that the supermarket giant was held responsible for its employees negligent act.
The Court heard how the supermarket employee, Mr Khan, followed Mr Mahmoud to his car after a disagreement. Mr Khan told Mr Mahmoud not to return to the petrol station and then proceeded to assault the customer.
The Supreme Court provided judgement stating that Mr Khan was “purporting to act about his employer’s business” and therefore Morrison’s were found to be vicariously liable for their employee’s actions.
Kirwans, who are based on Wirral, Liverpool and Southport, insist recent rulings mean that an employee’s failure to exercise appropriate duty of care at work could have dire consequences for employers.
Personal Injury solicitor James Barker said: “The Supreme Court’s judgement is extremely significant and could open the floodgates for similar cases where an employee commits a negligent act, in a place of work, during working hours. Under this new ruling, liability is no longer a matter for the individual alone; the employer will now also be accountable.
“It is going to be very difficult for an employer to absolve themselves of liability on the basis of this judgement. If a claimant can show the defendant’s act was committed by them while working then a case could rule in favour of the claimant. This would have widespread implications where customers, or even fellow colleagues, have been seriously wronged by an employee.
“What these recent rulings also indicate is there has been a significant shift in the application of the law on vicarious liability. We are now seeing similar cases settle in favour of the claimant. The Supreme Courts’ decision could now set a precedent for cases of this nature.”