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Employer not liable for an assault on a customer by their employee

View profile for Chris Dobbs
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Mohamud v Morrisons Supermarket

The Court of Appeal (“CA”) has held that a supermarket was not liable for an assault by one of their petrol station assistants on a customer.

In March 2008, a customer visited a Morrison’s supermarket and petrol station in Birmingham. The customer entered the service kiosk and asked a Morrison’s employee if it was possible to print off some documents which were stored on a USB stick that the customer was carrying. The employee responded in an abusive fashion including racist language. He then proceeded to follow the customer to his car, punch him in 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 Morrisons, claiming it was liable for its employee’s actions. The CA agreed with the trial judge that it was not. The question was whether there was a sufficiently close connection between the wrongdoing (the assault) and the employment so that it would be fair and just to hold the employer liable. The judge had, however, found that the assault had taken place after the employee’s supervisor had told him not to follow the customer out of the premises. He held the employee’s acts were beyond the scope of his employment. The case could be distinguished from other cases where the employee’s duties included exercising authority and keeping order, such as a night club doorman.

In Practice

Head of Employment team Kate Fretten says “This is a sensible decision by the Court of Appeal. If it had found otherwise it would have potentially opened the flood gates to many claims by customers of businesses who believe they have suffered a wrong by an employee, whether it is an assault or something else, such as fraud for example. Liability will be limited to cases where the employee is acting specifically as part of their employment and these should be, by their nature, unusual.”

 

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting to chat on the phone to answer your questions. If this article raises issues for you or your business, please call us on 01202 499255 and Kate or Paul will be happy to discuss it with you.

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