Court considers whether a football club would be vicariously liable for an alleged assault by a professional footballer on an apprentice

The claimant alleged that he was assaulted by a professional footballer when he was an apprentice footballer at the same club. The court dismissed his claim, but nevertheless went on to consider whether the club could have been held vicariously liable for the acts of its employee (the professional footballer).

Following a review of relevant caselaw, Butler HHJ held that the club could not have been held vicariously liable. The professional footballer had no express or implied duty to train or discipline apprentices. Prior caselaw has focused on the duties given by the employer to the wrongdoer, rather than the victim. However, in this case, the claimant had sought to argue that the duties given to the apprentice created or enhance the risk of confrontation (or of violence, whether frolicsome or vengeful) with players at the club. It was alleged that the club had created an inherent risk (given the disparity of status between the professionals and the apprentices, and the fact that the apprentices were required to perform menial services in an entirely male sporting workplace environment) that informal sanctions would be imposed on the apprentices.

That argument was rejected by the judge as going a step further than the authorities justify: "Most if not all apprentices or trainees in all workplaces, not just sporting organisations, would be at such a theoretical risk and such a finding would be little short of holding that any employer should be vicariously liable for any assault on any apprentice or trainee by a full-time employee in all circumstances… I am not prepared to make that step on the facts of this case. In the absence of the conferring by the club on the second defendant of any formal duties or powers in relation to the apprentices or proof that the management of the club … actually knew of and condoned the alleged practice, I find that even if it had occurred … it would have been deliberate and intentional or reckless conduct involving a serious assault outside the course of the second defendant's employment".