Solicitor - Health & Injury
If an employee is injured at work during working hours, a negligent employer will be held accountable for any injuries and losses that are suffered as a result.
However, what happens if an employee sustains injuries in an accident that occurs outside the usual place of work, and outside their normal working hours? Is an employer still liable for the accident?
Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited
This question was central to the case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited. Mr Bellman was employed by Northampton Recruitment Limited as a sales manager. His duties included recruiting drivers and placing them with clients. The managing director was Mr Major.
In December 2011 the company held a Christmas party at a golf club. The party ended at around midnight, after which Mr Major suggested further drinks at a nearby hotel and paid for everyone’s taxis. This was not a pre-planned extension of the party at the golf club, but most of the guests went anyway.
At around 2am, the conversation turned to work. Mr Bellman asked Mr Major about a new colleague, Mr Kelly. It was understood that Mr Kelly was being paid substantially more than anyone else. This line of questioning annoyed Mr Major. He lost his temper and punched Mr Bellman who fell down. Mr Bellman stood back up, only to be hit again by Mr Major, this time knocking him out. He fell straight back and hit his head on the ground, resulting in a traumatic brain injury.
Mr Bellman pursued a personal injury claim against his employer, on the basis that Northampton Recruitment Limited was liable for Mr Major’s actions.
However, at the trial in 2016, the judge ruled that the assault had taken place outside of work. This was largely because the incident had occurred at the unplanned after-party, rather than the organised Christmas party. As a result, Mr Bellman’s work accident claim was dismissed.
The solicitors acting on behalf of Mr Bellman appealed this decision. They argued that Mr Major’s position as managing director was connected to his wrongful conduct. Further, it was argued that the trial judge had failed to take into account the nature of Mr Major’s job, and the power and authority entrusted to him over employees.
The Court of Appeal agreed and held that despite the time and place, Mr Major was acting in his role as managing director, and was exercising authority over employees. He then mis-used his position when his managerial decisions were challenged. The appeal was allowed.
This decision provides useful guidance on the extent to which an employer can be vicariously liable for an employee’s accident. Therefore even if an employee is injured outside of work and outside of normal working hours, there could be grounds for a work accident claim.
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