Employer not vicariously liable for injuries sustained by employee at Christmas party
In Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK  EWHC 842 (QB) the claimant suffered a spinal injury when she was lifted up, and dropped, at a works Christmas party by a drunk colleague (a Mr Beilik). She claimed against her employer alleging: 1) inadequate supervision/organisation of the party; and 2) that her employer was vicariously liable for Mr Beilik‘s actions.
The following test, as recognised in Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets  UKSC 11, was applied:
(a) What functions or “field of activities” have been entrusted by the employer to the employee (the nature of the job)?; and
(b) Was there a sufficient connection between the position in which he was employed and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable for reasons of social justice?
At trial the court concluded that Mr Beilik’s field of activities was his research work, a field “not sufficiently connected with what happened at the party as to give rise to vicarious liability”. On appeal the claimant sought to argue that the relevant “field of activities” was to “interact with fellow partygoers in alcohol-infused revelry, leading to the setting aside of the ordinary boundaries of social interaction”. It was argued that this was authorised by the employer for its own benefit since it stood to gain from the enhancement of its employees’ morale. The claimant argued that if this were the field of activities, it was evident there was a sufficiently close connection between that field and the Mr Beilikt’s wrongful conduct.
This argument was rejected by Mr Justice Lane, who held that the defendant was only “responding to the expectation of its members of staff that this is what an employer does for them at Christmas.” This was not a case where the claimant was at work when Mr Beilik committed the alleged tort or where his “field of activities” was sufficiently connected with what happened at the party to give rise to vicarious liability.
Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Lane said the accident was “extremely unfortunate” and the victim deserved the court’s sympathy. “However, the ascertainment of what social justice requires, which lies at the heart of the law on vicarious liability, is not a journey down a one-way street. “The desirability of enabling those who have suffered injury at the hands of others to recover adequate financial compensation needs to be balanced against the wider social consequences which may ensue from achieving this result through the imposition of vicarious liability.”
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