Earlier this month, the Supreme Court made a landmark judgment which confirmed that in certain circumstances, an employer can be held vicariously liable for the wrongful conduct of an employee who attacks a customer.
In Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc, Mr Mohamud, a customer, visited a Morrison’s supermarket and petrol station premises. He approached Mr Khan, a Morrisons employee, at the service kiosk and asked if he could print off some documents from his USB. Mr Khan responded in an abusive and racist manner. He then followed Mr Mohamud out of the premises, despite being told not to by his supervisor, and physically attacked him.
Mr Mohamud subsequently brought a claim against Morrisons, alleging that it was vicariously liable for Mr Khan’s actions. Morrisons argued that the assault was so far removed from what Mr Khan was employed to do that they could not be held liable for Mr Khan’s actions. Both the first judge and then the Court of Appeal, agreed.
However, the Supreme Court considered the courts must look at the “field of activities” assigned to the employee. It was Mr Khan’s job to attend to customers and to respond to their inquiries. Mr Khan’s conduct in answering Mr Mohamud’s request in an abusive manner was clearly not acceptable, but responding to such requests was part of his role. What happened thereafter was an unbroken sequence of events between Mr Mohamud asking his question and Mr Khan attacking him on his employers’ premises.
It was irrelevant that Mr Khan’s motives were racist, rather than a desire to benefit from his employer’s business. Mr Khan was put in that position because his employers entrusted him with that role. Therefore, the Supreme Court held that they should be held responsible for their employee’s abuse of it.
I have successfully brought many child abuse claims against the abuser’s employer. These situations arise where the abuser has used their position to gain access to their victim. In such cases, it is not always obvious who the employers are. However, they can include scout leaders, priests, and foster carers.
In order for a claim of this nature to be successful, the claimant would need to show that the abuser was either employed or in a relationship akin to employment with the defendant and that the duties carried out by the abuser were closely connected with that employment.
This landmark judgment offers helpful guidance in such cases and it is hoped that this will assist claimants in the future.