vicarious liability


Another skirmish on the boundaries of vicarious liability: data protection this time

7 April 2020 by

WM Morrison Supermarkets plc (Appellant) v Various Claimants (Respondents) [2020] UKSC 12 On appeal from: [2018] EWCA Civ 2339 – read judgment

The following summary is based on the Supreme Court’s press report.

This appeal concerned the circumstances in which an employer can be held to be vicariously liable for wrongs committed by its employees, and also whether vicarious liability may arise for breaches by an employee of duties imposed by the Data Protection Act 1998 (“DPA”).

The appellant operates a chain of supermarkets and employed Andrew Skelton on its internal audit team. In July 2013, Skelton received a verbal warning after disciplinary proceedings for minor misconduct and bore a grievance against the appellant thereafter. In November 2013, Skelton was tasked with transmitting payroll data for the appellant’s entire workforce to its external auditors, as he had done the previous year. Skelton did so, but also made and kept a personal copy of the data. In early 2014, he used this to upload a file containing the data to a publicly accessible filesharing website. Skelton later also sent the file anonymously to three UK newspapers, purporting to be a concerned member of the public who had found it online. The newspapers did not publish the information. Instead, one alerted the appellant, which took immediate steps to have the data removed from the internet and to protect its employees, including by alerting police. Skelton was soon arrested and has since been prosecuted and imprisoned.


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Does “damage” go wider than injury? Supreme Court on jurisdiction

23 December 2017 by

Four Seasons Holdings v. Brownlie [2017] UKSC 80, 19 December 2017, read judgment

Professor Ian Brownlie Q.C., an eminent international lawyer, and members of his family were killed in a road accident in Egypt, when on their way to Al-Fayoum. His widow, also injured, had booked the driver through their hotel, the Four Seasons in Cairo.

The family wished to bring proceedings in the UK against the hotel in respect of the driver. However, the key defendant (Holdings) was incorporated in British Columbia, and the issue which got to the Supreme Court was the issue of jurisdiction.

The family said that there was a contract for the trip with Holdings, and further that Holdings were vicariously liable in tort for the negligence of the driver. Holdings had been less than transparent at earlier stages of the proceedings, but, after the Supreme Court required it to give a full account of itself, it emerged that it was as the name suggested – a non-trading holding company which had never operated the Cairo hotel, even though other companies in the group were involved with the hotel.

On that ground, Holdings’ appeal was allowed. The unanimous Court concluded that there was no claim in either contract or in tort. In simple terms, Holdings was nothing to do with the booking of the driver by the hotel.

But the lasting interest in the case lay in the question of whether you can establish qualifying “damage” in tort in the UK even if you are injured abroad, and on this the Court was split 3-2.

Let me set the scene for this, before telling you the result.


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IVF Doctor not liable for failing to warn parents of genetic disorder in child – Australian Supreme Court

21 May 2013 by

12280487228o6zg0Waller v James  [2013] NSWSC 497 (6 May 2013) – read judgment

So-called “wrongful birth” cases – where parents claim for the costs of bringing up a child that has been born as a result of the hospital’s alleged negligence – have long been the subject of heated debate.

Since 1999 (MacFarlane v Tayside Health Board) such damages have been refused on grounds of public policy – for the birth of a healthy baby, that is. As far as disabled children are concerned, parents can the additional costs attributable to the disability (Parkinson v St James and Seacroft NHS Trust).  Now that so much more can be predicted with a high level of certainty from pre-birth, even pre-conception genetic tests, where do we stand on public policy in wrongful birth cases where the negligence not so much in failure to treat (failed vasectomies etc) but failure to inform? This Australian case gives some indication of the way the courts may approach such questions.

Background facts

Keeden Waller was conceived by IVF using the Wallers’ own gametes. There was a fifty percent chance that he would inherit from his father a blood disorder called antithrombin deficiency (ATD), a condition that affects the body’s normal blood clotting ability and leads to an increased risk of thrombosis. Keeden suffered a stroke a few days after his birth resulting in severe disabilities, which his parents, Lawrence and Deborah Waller, alleged was the result of ATD. They brought a claim in damages against their doctor for the care of their disabled son and psychological harm to themselves.
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Church has employer’s duty of liability for parish priests

16 July 2012 by

JEG v  The Trustees of the Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan  [2012] EWCA Civ 938

Elizabeth Anne-Gumbel QCand Justin Levinson of One Crown Office Row acted for the claimant in this case. They did not write this post.

The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the church can be held liable for the negligent acts of a priest it has appointed. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court has been refused.

This appeal was another preliminary stage in the main action between the claimant’s action for damages following the alleged sexual abuse and assault by a parish priest (now deceased), and the trustees of the diocesan where he served. The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the defendants can held to account, even though there was no formal employment relationship between Father Baldwin and the Diocesan – see Rachit Buch’s post for an excellent analysis of the issues and summary of the facts.
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Bishop can be vicariously liable for priest’s sex abuse, rules High Court

9 November 2011 by

JGE v The English Province of Our Lady of Charity & Anor [2011] EWHC 2871 (QB) (08 November 2011) – Read judgment

Elizabeth Anne-Gumbel QC and Justin Levinson of One Crown Office Row acted for the Claimant in this case. They did not write this post.

A Roman Catholic diocese can be held liable for the negligent acts of a priest it has appointed, the High Court has ruled. The ruling is a preliminary issue in the Claimant’s proceedings against alleged sexual abuse and rape at a children’s home. The trial of these allegations are to follow.

The Claimant, a 47-year-old woman, is suing the Portsmouth Roman Catholic diocese for the injury she alleges she suffered from abuse and rape while living at a children’s home run by the diocese in the early 1970s. The priest involved, Father Baldwin, is now dead. The High Court was asked to determine, before the trial of the allegation, whether the diocese – that is, the district under supervision of the Bishop – could be held liable for Father Baldwin’s acts; whether the principle of vicarious liability applies to a diocesan bishop for the acts of a priest he has appointed.

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