Tort – Vicarious Liability

Vicarious liability is a legal doctrine that imposes a liability on another by virtue of a legal relationship or a special relationship with the tortfeasor (the person who committed the tort) for example where there is an employer-employee relationship and the employer is held responsible or accountable for the negligent acts of the employee or a parent-child relationship where the parent is held responsible or accountable of the actions of the child.

Under normal circumstances however if the employer is found liable because of the negligent act or acts of the employee and is ordered to pay damages by a court, the employer can recover at least part of the damages from the employee.

In Ward v Tesco Stores Ltd (1976) for example, the plaintiff was walking down the aisle of a Tesco store shopping when she stepped on some spilled yogurt and subsequently slipped and fell. The plaintiff was injured as a result of the accident and brought an action against Tesco for negligence. The court held that Tesco owed its customers a duty of care and it had breached that duty by failing to ensure that the floors were kept clean at all times. It is clearly evident that it was the employee of the store that was negligent but the action was brought against the employer.

This is done or allowed from the perspective of the law because employers as far as the law is concerned should take appropriate measures to ensure that their employees do not cause any harm or damage to the public and from the perspective of the plaintiff because the damages that are awarded will be higher when the action is against the employer as opposed to an action against an employee.

In Costello v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police (1999) a lady police constable was attacked by a prisoner and her senior officer failed to come to her aid. The plaintiff, the police constable who was attacked, sued. The plaintiff brought an action against the chief constable as opposed to an action against the senior officer simply because the Chief Constable is responsible for the actions of all the officers that are below him and a failure to act diligently or as required by his officers may lead to an action being brought against the person who is in charge or the Chief Constable.

In Barrett v Ministry of Defense (1995) the plaintiff’s husband was working in the navy and was stationed in Norway. On the night of the incident he’d been drinking heavily and caught the attention of a senior officer who then instructed a petty officer to make sure he was well and to get him back to his bunk. The petty officer did as he was instructed and checked on him on a few occasions but despite that, he died during the night.

His wife, the plaintiff brought an action in court alleging that her husband’s death could have been prevented had it not been for the defendants’ negligence. Here the action was brought against the Ministry of Defense (MOD) because it is the ministry that is ultimately in charge or responsible for the conduct of its officers.

In Church of Latter-Day Saints v Yorkshire Fire and Civil Defense Authority (1997) the plaintiffs’ premises was on fire and the plaintiffs called in the fire brigade. When the fire brigade arrived, they realized that the fire hydrants did not have adequate water supply and as a result they couldn’t put out the fire. The plaintiffs sued the fire department.

An action was brought against the fire department and not the officers or the personnel that were tasked with ensuring that there was adequate water in the fire hydrants because it was the responsibility of the fire department to ensure that its personnel were performing up to the required standards.

In AB v Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust (2004) three families brought an action for the removal of tissue and organs from the bodies of their deceased children without first obtaining the consent of the parents against the relevant authority. The tissue and the organs were removed after a post mortem and the parents only became aware of the details many years later. Once again, an action was brought against the relevant authority and not the staff because it was the duty of the relevant authority to ensure that their staff acted or carried out their duties in the prescribed manner.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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