Today, the Supreme Court handed down the long-awaited judgement about who is liable for the sexual abuse of children in foster care. This decision comes from the case of Armes – v – Nottinghamshire County Council  UKSC 60.
The appellant, Miss Armes, was in the care of Nottinghamshire County Council during her childhood. She was placed into foster care with Mr and Mrs Allison between March 1985 and March 1986, and with Mr and Mrs Blakely between October 1987 and February 1988. The appellant was physically and emotionally abused by Mrs Allison, and sexually abused by Mr Blakely; findings made at an earlier hearing by Males J in the High Court.
The case proceeded on the basis that the local authority was not negligent in respect of the placements. Miss Ames argued that the local authority was still liable for the abuse on the basis that they were in breach of a non-delegable duty of care, or on the basis that they were vicariously liable for the abusive torts committed by the foster parents. In other words the local authority was in effect the employer and should be responsible. The claim was dismissed at first instance in the High Court, and by the Court of Appeal.
The Supreme Court in its landmark decision today has decided that it is fair, just and reasonable to extend the doctrine of vicarious liability, on the part of a local authority, to cover the acts (even deliberate and intentional acts) of foster parents towards foster children placed in their care, even in the absence of any negligence on the part of the local authority.
The judgment means that survivors of abuse whilst in foster care now have a right of action against the local authorities that placed them. It must be remembered though that this is not a green light for all survivors. Limitation remains a major issue in child sexual abuse cases, and courts will only in exceptional circumstances waive the time bar. Nevertheless, this is a landmark decision which means that victims who previously had no cause of action may now have one.
The judgment may also mean that victims in other situations where there had previously been no liability may also now have a right of action.
Survivors and victims should always seek prompt expert legal advice. If in doubt ask!