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Cloisters’ Joel Donovan QC and Adam Ohringer win definitive guidance on vicarious liability in Mohamud v Morrison Supermarkets

Cloisters’ Joel Donovan QC and Adam Ohringer win definitive guidance on vicarious liability in Mohamud v Morrison Supermarkets

The Supreme Court’s judgment in the case of Mr A M Mohamud (in substitution for Mr A Mohamud (deceased)) (Appellant) v WM Morrison Supermarkets plc (Respondent) – UKSC 2014/0087 on appeal from the Court of Appeal  was handed down this morning.

The Court unanimously allows the Claimant’s appeal and holds the Respondent vicariously liable for the actions of its employee, in attacking the Claimant. See judgment here

On 15 March 2008 Mr Ahmed Mohamud entered a petrol station adjacent to a Morrisons’ supermarket only to be viciously attacked by a sales assistant.

The Morrisons’ employee Mr Khan, without any provocation, beat Mr Mohamud with punches and kicks, leaving him curled up on the petrol station forecourt suffering life-changing injuries.

Morrisons denied they were legally liable for the assault committed by their employee on the basis that his actions were unconnected to his employment duties.

Following a lengthy legal battle, Cloisters barristers Joel Donovan QC and Adam Ohringer took Mr Mohamud’s case to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.  Acting pro bono throughout, they argued that the law of vicarious liability must be applied, and extended if necessary, to provide a fair result for Mr Mohamud.

The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal saying that ‘our law is not yet at a stage where the mere fact of contact between a sales assistant and a customer, which is plainly authorised by an employer, is of itself sufficient to fix the employer with vicarious liability.’

Troubled by the unfairness of the case and the need for the law to advance, Joel and Adam took the case to the Supreme Court.  In a Judgment handed down today (2 March 2016), Lord Toulson giving the leading Judgment stated:

In the present case it was Mr Khan’s job to attend to customers and to respond to their inquiries. His conduct in answering the claimant’s request in a foul mouthed way and ordering him to leave was inexcusable but within the “field of activities” assigned to him. What happened thereafter was an unbroken sequence of events. It was argued by the respondent and accepted by the judge that there ceased to be any significant connection between Mr Khan’s employment and his behaviour towards the claimant when he came out from behind the counter and followed the claimant onto the forecourt. I disagree for two reasons. First, I do not consider that it is right to regard him as having metaphorically taken off his uniform the moment he stepped from behind the counter. He was following up on what he had said to the claimant. It was a seamless episode. Secondly, when Mr Khan followed the claimant back to his car and opened the front passenger door, he again told the claimant in threatening words that he was never to come back to petrol station. This was not something personal between them; it was an order to keep away from his employer’s premises, which he reinforced by violence. In giving such an order he was purporting to act about his employer’s business. It was a gross abuse of his position, but it was in connection with the business in which he was employed to serve customers. His employers entrusted him with that position and it is just that as between them and the claimant, they should be held responsible for their employee’s abuse of it. (para.47)

As a consequence of this important Judgment, customers of a business who are assaulted by an employee will find it much easier to claim compensation from the business itself.  It is also likely that many cases involving assaults or harassment between co-workers while at work will now be decided differently.  Businesses will find it harder to argue that the aggressor was on ‘a frolic of his own’ to avoid liability for the violent actions of their employees.

For press coverage see BBC News: Court holds Morrisons liable for attack by worker

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