Supreme Court

Mohamud v Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc

[2016] UKSC 11

[2016] WLR (D) 109

2015 Oct 12, 13; 2016 March 2

Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury PSC, Baroness Hale of Richmon DPSC, Lord Dyson MR, Lord Reed, Lord Toulson JJSC

Vicarious liability — Employment — Course of employment — Petrol station attendant assaulting customer — Whether acting within course of employment — Whether employer liable for assault

Facts

The claimant, having stopped at a petrol station at one of the defendant’s supermarkets to check his tyre pressures, went into the sales kiosk and asked the defendant’s employee if it was possible to print off some documents which were stored on a USB stick which the claimant was carrying. The employee took exception to the request and refused in an offensive manner. In the exchange of words which followed the employee used racist, abusive and violent language and when the claimant returned to his vehicle the employee followed him, opened the passenger door and told the claimant never to return to the petrol station and punched him in the head. When the claimant then got out to walk round and close the door the employee subjected him to a further attack involving punches and kicks. The claimant brought an action in the county court for damages for assault and battery against the defendant on the ground that it was vicariously liable for the assault. The judge made a finding that the employee had assaulted the claimant but, dismissing the claim, held that the defendant was not vicariously liable for that assault since there was an insufficiently close connection between the assault and the employment. The Court of Appeal dismissed the claimant’s appeal on like ground.

On the claimant’s appeal—

Held

Held, appeal allowed. Vicarious liability in tort required, first, a relationship between the defendant and the wrongdoer, and secondly, a connection between that relationship and the wrongdoer’s act or default, such as to make it just that the defendant should be held legally responsible to the claimant for the consequences of the wrongdoer’s conduct. In cases where the wrongdoer was employed by the defendant, so that there was no issue about the first requirement, and the question was therefore whether there was sufficient connection between the wrongdoer’s employment and his conduct towards the claimant to make the defendant legally responsible, the correct test was to consider what, broadly speaking, was the nature of the employee’s employment and then ask whether the wrongdoer’s tort was so closely connected with that employment that it would be just to hold the employer liable. Here, the defendant’s employee’s job had been to attend to customers and respond to their inquiries. There had been an unbroken sequence of events between his attending to the claimant’s initial inquiry and his following him onto the forecourt and ordering him never to return to the petrol station, which he had reinforced by violence. Although such actions had been a gross abuse of the employee’s position, they had been in connection with the business in which he had been employed to serve customers. It was just that the defendant should be liable for its employee’s abuse of his position (post, paras 1, 39, 44–46, 47, 50, 57, 58).

Cases Considered

Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd [2002] 1 AC 215, HL(E) and Dubai Aluminium Co Ltd v Salaam [2003] 2 AC 366, HL(E) applied.

Appellate History

Decision of the Court of Appeal [2014] EWCA Civ 116 reversed.

Appearances

Joel Donovan QC and Adam Ohringer (instructed by Bar Pro Bono Unit) for the claimant.

Benjamin Browne QC, Roger Harris and Isabel Barter (instructed by Gordons LLP, Bradford) for the defendant.

Reported by: Colin Beresford, Barrister