Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK [2019] EWHC 842


Cancer Research UK held its Christmas party at its Cambridge research institute. It undertook a risk assessment before the party and engaged two additional security staff as a result. The claimant, Mrs Shelbourne, was dancing when Mr Bielik – who had been drinking alcohol – tried to lift her, lost his balance and dropped her. Mrs Shelbourne suffered a serious back injury. Mr Bielik was a visiting scientist but was not employed by Cancer Research. Mrs Shelbourne brought a claim against Cancer Research for negligence.


The employer was not liable in negligence. The High Court considered the nature of the occasion and concluded that the employer had undertaken a sufficient risk assessment. There was insufficient connection between the incident and the nature of Mr Bielik's work for vicarious liability to apply.

Over the last few years, the courts have extended the scope of vicarious liability and it is a relief for employers to see a decision where the employer was not liable. For anyone planning a staff summer party, this case is a reminder to carry out a risk assessment beforehand and put measures in place to limit any risks that are identified.