The claimant, a customer, was assaulted by the defendant’s employee, a petrol station attendant. The claimant lost at first instance and before the Court of Appeal but succeeded before the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court analysed the history and development of the doctrine of vicarious liability in some detail. The two main issues were: what functions or field of activities had been entrusted by the employer to the employee (and this question must be addressed broadly); and whether there was sufficient connection between the position in which he was employed and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable.
The Supreme Court found that the employee was giving an order to stay away from the defendant’s premises, which he reinforced by violence. Although a gross abuse of his position it was in connection with the business in which he was employed to serve customers. His employer trusted him with that position and it was just that it should be held responsible for its employee’s abuse of it.
Although Dyson LJ agreed that there had been developments in the law of vicarious liability as to the relationship that gives rise to vicarious liability, his opinion was that the law on vicarious liability was not on the move in relation to the circumstances in which an employer should be held liable for a tort committed by his employee. However this decision would appear to be at odds with other recent vicarious liability decisions by the Court of Appeal inGraham v Commercial Bodyworks  EWCA Civ 47 and the decision of the Inner House in Vaickuviene v J Sainsbury PLC  CSIH 67. The Supreme Court was keen to not overcomplicate matters and said simplification of the essence is more desirable with regards to the test of whether there was a sufficiently close connection. It seems likely that such simplification will increase the size of the vicarious liability net in the future.