The High Court recently decided that the Health Service Executive (HSE) owed a duty of care to a property owner whose property was damaged when the companions of a troubled teenager, who had been renting the adjoining property with the support of the HSE, set fire to the adjoining property. The Court’s decision was based on its view that the HSE was negligent in concluding that the troubled teenager was suited to independent living.
The law on vicarious liability was re-stated by a 2009 Supreme Court decision in which the Court held that an employer can be liable in principle for the unauthorised, and even criminal, acts of its employee(s).
The recent case against the HSE constitutes a possible extension of the law on vicarious liability. The case does not deal with vicarious liability in the traditional sense. The Judge imposed a duty of care on the HSE by virtue of its statutory duty to troubled teenagers under child care legislation.
The Judge decided that a special relationship existed between the HSE and the troubled teenager which gave rise to a duty of care. The Judge’s reasoning was that the HSE had concluded that the teenager was suitable for independent living and endeavoured to monitor the teenager during her stay in the premises.
The Judge held that it was foreseeable that the property would be damaged once the teenager was unsupervised in the property given her previous troubled history. Ultimately, the Judge held that a duty of care should be imposed on the HSE for the damage caused to the adjoining property. While it is likely that the case will be appealed, it demonstrates that the principles of duty of care and negligence can be interpreted widely as a basis for imposing Iiability for the actions of another person.