Supermarket was vicariously liable for employee assault on customer
In February 2014 we reported that the Court of Appeal had found that Morrisons Supermarkets were not vicariously liable for an assault on a customer, carried out by one of its employees. The case was appealed and the Supreme Court have now overturned that decision.
In 2008, Mr Mohamud, a man of Somali origin called in to a supermarket petrol station, owned and run by Morrisons. Mr Mohamud asked one of the petrol station staff, Mr Khan if it was possible to print some documents that he had on a memory stick. Mr Khan replied in expletive terms that it was not and then when Mr Mohamud objected to being sworn at, Mr Khan ordered him to leave using foul and racist language. Mr Mohamud left the petrol station kiosk and Mr Khan followed him to his car where he assaulted Mr Mohamud, punching and kicking him to the ground. In carrying out the attack, Mr Khan had ignored the instruction of his supervisor who had tried to stop him from pursuing Mr Mohamud.
Mr Mohamud brought a personal injury claim against Morrisons and a question for the court was whether or not Morrisons were vicariously liable for the act of its employee. A first instance court and the Court of Appeal held that Morrisons was not vicariously liable. Mr Mohamud had failed to show that there was a close enough connection in order to make Morrisons liable. The Court of Appeal had particular regard to the fact that Mr Khan’s job, unlike that of say nightclub door staff, did not place him in a position where the outbreak of violence was likely.
The Supreme Court held that the acts of Mr Khan were sufficiently connected to his employment in order that Morrisons should he liable for his actions. The court noted that the test for vicarious liability is, by its nature, uncertain and that the court had to decide whether or not it was ‘just’ for the employer to be held liable. While Mr Khan’s actions were clearly and abuse of his position, his actions were none the less carried out in connection with his duties as a petrol station attendant.
8 March 2016
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