The Supreme Court today (2 March 2016) ruled that Yorkshire based supermarket group Morrisons is liable for the actions of an employee who physically attacked a customer.
The Supreme Court ruled that Morrisons was ‘vicariously liable’ for the staff member’s actions.
The decision represents a further extension of the concept of vicarious liability and will be a cause of concern for employers and insurers, say legal experts.
The Supreme Court ruling relates to an incident in March 2008 when Ahmed Mohamud stopped at a petrol station operated and staffed by Morrison’s. He asked staff member Amjid Khan about printing facilities. Mr Khan responded in an abusive fashion, followed Mr Mohamud from the kiosk and subjected him to a vicious assault.
Mr Mohamud later sued Morrisons seeking damages for the personal injuries sustained in the unprovoked attack. Morrisons argued that, in leaving the kiosk and attacking Mr Mohamud, Mr Khan had gone beyond the scope of his employment.
William Jones, a partner in the insurance division at Langleys Solicitors, York, said:
“Employers and insurers will no doubt be concerned at the broad brush approach adopted by the Supreme Court which has held that, because it was Mr Khan’s job to attend to customers, his conduct in attempting to remove Mr Mohamud from his employer’s premises was within his ‘field of activities’ even if it was inexcusable and a gross abuse of his position.
“To find that Mr Khan was still performing an authorised task in attacking Mr Mohamud seems unreasonable. One would hope that where an employee does something totally unexpected, unauthorised and of no benefit to the employer’s business, the employer would not get saddled with liability for it.
“Today’s decision suggests that this will not necessarily be the case and could therefore cause some discomfort for employers who have to rely on their employees to act in a reasonable manner.”