Monday 24 February 2014

Vicarious Liability (assault on customer)

Thanks to Dr John McMullen of Wrigleys Solicitors LLP for preparing this case summary
Was a supermarket vicariously liable for an assault by a petrol station assistant on a customer?

No, held the Court of Appeal, on the facts in Mohamud v Morrison Supermarkets.

In March 2008, a customer visited a Morrison's supermarket and petrol station in Small Heath in Birmingham. The customer entered the service kiosk and asked a Morrison's employee, Mr Khan, if it was possible to print off some documents which were stored on a USB stick that the customer was carrying. Mr Khan responded in an abusive fashion including racist language. He then proceeded to follow the customer into his car, punch him to the head, and then subjected him to a serious attack involving further punches and kicks whilst the customer was curled up on the petrol station forecourt.

The customer sued Morrison, claiming it was vicariously liable for its employee's actions. The trial judge held it was not.

The Court of Appeal agreed. The question was whether there was a sufficiently close connection between the wrongdoing (the assaults) and the employment so that it would be fair and just to hold the employer vicariously liable.

The trial judge had, however, found that the assault had taken place at a time when Khan's supervisor had told him not to follow the customer out of the premises. It was found that for "no good or apparent reason" Khan had carried out the attack "purely for reasons of his own".

As such, these acts were beyond the scope of Khan's employment. The case could be distinguished from cases involving vicarious liability where the employee's duties included exercising authority and keeping order (such as a night club doorman). Mr Khan's duties included no element of keeping order over customers.

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