Employer not liable for injuries caused by practical joke

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What was the issue in the case of Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd?

Employers can be held to be vicariously liable for the acts of its employees which are done in the course of their employment. In the case of  Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd the High Court found that this involved an assessment of whether or not there was a sufficient connection between the position in which the employee was employed and the wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable. 

What were the facts of the case?

There had been tension between fitters who had feared redundancy and Mr Chell who had been providing services as a contractor. This had led to the fitters deciding to play a practical joke on him. Two “pellet targets” were placed on a bench close to Mr Chell and when he bent down near to them one of the fitters hit the pellets with a hammer which caused a loud explosion right perforating his right eardrum. The fitter who had caused the explosion was dismissed. Mr Chell claimed compensation.

What decision was made?

It was held that whilst the incident happened in the workplace, the employer was not vicariously liable for the employee’s actions. Those actions were unconnected with any instruction given to the employee in connection with his work and did not in any way advance the purpose of his employer. The workplace merely provided the opportunity to carry out the prank, rather than it being within the employee’s work activities. In addition, the employer had complied with its health and safety duties. 

Key take away point

What makes an employer liable for the actions of an employee?

This case highlights an instance where an employer was not held to have been negligent or liable due to the actions of an employee. To be liable there must be a sufficiently strong connection between the employer, the employee and the activity which gave rise to the incident. In other words, an employer will usually only be liable for the actions of an employee where, at the employer’s direction, the employee was tasked to act and, in some way connected with doing so, the employee causes injury to another.

Do you require any more information regarding employer liability?

If you have any queries about employer liability or any issues relating to this topic, please get in touch and we will be happy to advise you. 

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