Permission to appeal granted in David Sanderson’s case of Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited  EWHC 3104 (QB) concerning vicarious liability and work social events
Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Limited  EWHC 3104 (QB)
Hamblen LJ has granted the claimant permission to appeal against the decision HHJ Barry Cotter QC. On 13 December 2016 the Judge, sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division, dismissed the claim and held that the Defendant was not vicariously liable for an assault committed by its managing director.
Mr Bellman was employed by Northampton Recruitment as a sales manager. The assault took place in the lobby of an hotel where some employees were continuing their evening, following the company’s annual Christmas party at a nearby golf club. On the judge’s findings, large amounts of alcohol were drunk over the course of the evening and the managing director, Mr Major, had had at least his fair share. At about 2 am the conversation between the five remaining employees turned to company business. After the discussion had continued for about an hour, an argument broke out when Mr Bellman questioned Mr Major’s management decisions in relation to another sales manager. Mr Major’s reaction was to deliver a lecture about how he owned the company and paid the wages and how decisions were his to take. When Mr Bellman continued to question, Mr Major’s reaction was to punch Mr Bellman twice. The second punch knocked him out and he fell, striking his head on the marble floor.
The judge made findings that (1) the managing director was the directing mind and will of the company, with a wide remit; (2) his role did not have set hours and he had authority to determine his own methods of work; (3) he would have seen the maintenance of managerial authority as a central part of his role; and (4) the assault was triggered by a challenge to his authority.
Nevertheless, the judge dismissed the claim on the basis that the assault had occurred during an impromptu drink, which could not be seen as an extension of the Christmas party; and that merely raising a topic that relates to work, in the course of a conversation between fellow workers, will not change the conversation into something in the course of employment.
Permission to appeal was sought on the ground that the judge had failed properly to apply the two-stage test in Mohamud v WM Morrision Supermarkets PLC  AC 677, which requires a court to consider: (1) “what functions or “field of activities” have been entrusted by the employer to the employee” and (2) “whether there was sufficient connection between the position in which he was employed and his wrongful conduct to make it right for the employer to be held liable” as a matter of social justice.
Hamblen LJ granted permission to appeal, determining that the appellant has a real prospect of establishing that the judge erred in his approach when considering the connection between the managing director’s employment and the assault. Having carefully examined the nature and extent of the field of activities and authority entrusted to the managing director, the judge later failed to take those matters into account when considering whether there was a sufficient connection.
David Sanderson is representing the Appellant with Robert Weir QC. The appeal has been given a hear-by date of 18 April 2018.