Vicarious liability

This arises most commonly in the context of wrongs or torts committed by employees.

The legal definition of vicarious liability is where a person is held responsible for the tort of another, it is not a tort as such, it is a method by which the courts have determined that someone else should be held liable for the wrongoings of others. This is so even though the person being held responsible has not done anything wrong themselves.  The situation often arises with employers who are held vicariously liable for the damages caused by their employees.

In the case of vicarious liability, the defendant will be an employer who is seen to be held vicariously liable for the wrongdoings of his employee, the tortfeasor.The courts have imposed rules as to when such vicarious liability arises. The main rules are that the tortfeasor must be an employee and that the tory must occur in the course of employment.


In many cases the nature of the relationship between the employer and employee will be readily established but if the position is not clear the courts have developed a series of tests to help them determine whether the wrongdoer is an employee. These basic tests are:


Control Test;


Integration Or Organisation Test and


Economic Reality or Multiple Test .


Liability will follow if it can be shown that the wrongful acts were authorised or if authorised acts are carried out in a wrongful way. Examples of where the employee has acted in an unauthorised way include cases where the employee has ignored an express or direct prohibition such as in Limpus v London General Omnibus Co 1862. This involved the bus drivers involvement in competitive driving and racing and blocking buses thus going directly against orders and resulting in injury to a third party. Careless acts may also result in vicarious liability as in the leading case of Century Insurance v Northern Ireland Road Transport Board (1942) when a delivery driver caused an explosion by lighting a cigarette while refuelling a petrol tanker.

Vicarious liability was applied in the infamous case of Rose v Plenty 1976 which involved a milkman who, against company orders, took a 13 year old boy with him on his round. The boy was injured due to the milkman's negligent driving. The boy, who sued both the milkman and the dairy, initially lost his case but the matter came before the Court of Appeal when Lord Scarman found a crucial factor to be that the boy was actually helping in an unauthorised way by helping deliver milk.

In 2012 in the case of The Catholic Child Welfare Society and others (Appellants) v Various Claimants (FC) and The Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and others (Respondents), the Supreme Court gave guidance on the sort of relationship which may give rise to vicarious liability. A relationship outside of an employee and employer situation it seems is capable of giving rise to vicarious liability and the Court took the opportunity in the Christian Brothers case to give further guidance on the nature of that relationship if it was indeed to be brought within the gambit of vicarious liability in tort proceedings.


The judgment and the guidance afforded extends the scope of vicarious liability beyond the responsibility of an employer for the acts and omissions of its employees in the course of their employment. We are told in effect that this is quite deliberate on the part of the judiciary on policy grounds in order to ensure a measure of protection for victims of torts.


Most recently the Supreme Court found the prison service vicariously liable in the former case and a local authority vicariously liable in the latter for the abuse of foster parents - Cox v Ministry of Justice (2016); Armes (Appellant) v Nottinghamshire County Council (Respondent) (2017).



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Outline the nature of the principle of vicarious liability in tort. Essay.

Outline the concept of vicarious liability in tort and discuss the relevance of this principle today. Essay.

Vicarious liability is not always a safe route. Essay.








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