Vicarious liability held not to cover drunken worker at Christmas party

In Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK [2019] EWHC 842 (QB), the claimant had attended a works Christmas party when one of her colleagues, Mr Bielik, who was drunk, lifted her up, dropped her and caused her serious injury.   He had lifted 3 other women up in a similar way earlier in the evening, including an organiser of the party.  Although not an employee of the defendant, Mr Bielik had been held at first instance to be in a category of worker who could render the employer vicariously liable.   On appeal, Lane J rejected both the claim in negligence in the organisation and carrying out of the party and the claim based upon the worker rendering the claimant’s employer vicariously liable.   Per the judge, Mr Bielik’s “field of activities” was limited to his work as a scientist and so bore no relation to his conduct on the night of the party.   The claimant had submitted that Mr Bielik had attended qua worker, that the employer benefitted from a party which engendered a sense of community and goodwill and that the employer authorised its workers to attend and socialise in an informal, alcohol-fuelled atmosphere of intimacy.   On this basis, Mr Bielik’s assault was very closely linked to his field of activities.

The claimant is seeking permission for a second appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Rob Weir QC acted with Tim Grover of 7 Harrington Street Chambers for the claimant, instructed by The Clarke Partnership.

This case has been covered in the national press, including The Sun, Evening Standard and The Daily Mail.

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