Vicarious Liability at the Petrol Station

Many organisations and people are confused about the term “vicarious liability” as it is applied to health and safety. Vicarious liability in this context is the liability in civil law for the actions of employees in the course of their employment. What is not widely understood is that this liability is attached to virtually anything that an employee does, unless in the legal terminology, they are out on a complete frolic of their own.

Here is an example of a recent case. A man went to fill his car with fuel at a local Morrisons petrol station. Rather unusually, he asked the kiosk attendant if he could print off some papers using their computer, from the customer’s USB stick that he had with him. At this strange request, the kiosk attendant was verbally abusive to the individual, while telling him “No.” The individual, having paid his fuel bill went back to his car. The kiosk attendant followed him to his car, punching him in the head so that the individual fell to the floor, where the attendant repeatedly kicked him until he was quite seriously injured.

The question arose in court whether Morrisons was vicariously liable for the actions of employee – the kiosk attendant. You might think that the employee was doing something completely unusual; however, the Supreme Court held that Morrisons was liable for the injuries caused by their employee because he was in a Morrisons uniform and because the incident took place at a Morrisons petrol station. The job of the employee was customer service, and when he said to the customer “Don’t ever come back to this petrol station again,” that was a purported instruction from the company.

Many organisations are confused about this liability. It is a liability in civil law, one for which a company would generally be insured. It is not related to the training of the employee or the competence of the employee. It is related to the fact that the employee is acting in the course of their employment, however badly.

Whilst it’s important, from a criminal law point of view and for avoiding such instances, to make sure employees are properly trained and monitored, in a civil law point of view, there is a direct liability on the employer, unless the employee is doing something completely outside the context of their employment.

If you need any more clarification about vicarious liability and how it applies to your organisation and your employees, please call us on 0118 929 9920 or click here to contact us.

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