Christmas party assault

Bellman v Northampton Recruitment

In this controversial case the High Court has held a company is not vicariously liable for injuries caused by an employee after a work Christmas party had ended.

A manager was assaulted by a director after a Christmas party. The two of them had, along with other colleagues, gone on to a hotel and continued drinking until the assault occurred at 3.00 am. The assault caused serious brain injury to the manager and the decision was taken to sue the company, and in effect its insurers, rather than the director personally.

The question arose whether at the time the director struck the blow, was he 'acting in the course or scope of his employment" so as to make the company vicariously liable? The Judge held that the company could have been liable if the blow had been struck during the Christmas party itself, but the assault in the hotel occurred after the party during a private drinking session and so the company was not vicariously liable.

In Practice

This decision could well have gone the other way, as there have been conflicting cases recently on when act is “in the course of employment”. It could have been decided that the drinks in the hotel were just a continuation of the work party and therefore the company held to be liable for the manager’s serious injuries. The case is still a reminder that employers may be liable for actions at Christmas parties and is particularly relevant at this time of year.

At Frettens, all of our solicitors offer a free initial meeting or 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 Paul, Kate or Andrew will be happy to discuss it with you.