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Employer not responsible for Christmas party injury

April 26, 2019
Employment Law

Regular readers of our newsletter may remember our previous articles on the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited. This was the one in which the managing director of a recruitment company assaulted a member of staff following a works Christmas party. After a lengthy legal battle, the company was held vicariously liable for the actions of the managing director. However, the recent case of Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK suggests that not all situations of this nature will result in the company finding itself on the hook.

The facts

Sandra Shelbourne was an animal technician who worked for Cancer Research UK (CRUK). She brought a negligence claim against CRUK following a works Christmas party, at which fellow reveller (Robert Bielik) accidentally dropped her on the dance hall, having lift her up in the course of the festivities. Sadly, she sustained serious back injuries, which have allegedly resulted in her being unable to work.

The decision

Although Mr Bielik did not work for CRUK, the charity acknowledged that there was the prospect that it might be vicariously liable for his actions. However CRUK successfully argued that there was an insufficient connection between the incident at the Christmas party and the nature of Mr Bielik’s work. Furthermore, the charity had, in the opinion of the High Court, taken appropriate steps to assess and address the risks associated with the event. In the circumstances, Ms Shelbourne’s case against CRUK failed.

Where are we now?

This is an interesting case, providing a contrast to the decision in the Bellman case. It underlines the potential for claims of this nature to go both ways, depending on the precise circumstances of the case and the connection between the allegedly negligent act and the position of the individual.

If you have any concerns about your liability for the actions of your staff or other people associated with your business, please get in touch.

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