Employer Liable for Injury After Company Christmas Party

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It’s that time of year again……! A cautionary tale if you are thinking about organising a Christmas party.

The Court of Appeal held that the employer was vicariously liable for a severe injury caused to an employee in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd.

Clive Bellman was a Sales Manager at Northampton Recruitment Ltd. A staff Christmas party had been arranged by the Company at a local golf course. Following the party where alcohol was being consumed, many of the guests including Clive Bellman and Mr Major, the Company’s Managing Director, continued with an impromptu after-party at the Hilton Hotel where several of the guests were staying.

Mr Major and Mr Bellman had been friends since childhood. At around 3am, sometime after the party had concluded, the two gentlemen were having conversations about sport and a heated discussion about work. Mr Major was angry and lectured staff on his authority in the business. Mr Major punched Mr Bellman twice in the head causing him to fall and hit his head on a marble floor. Mr Bellman was immediately taken to A&E and found to have a fractured skull, frontal lobe contusion, haemorrhaging and extradural bleeding requiring two operations.

As a result of his injuries, Mr Bellman now has brain damage resulting in problems with verbal reasoning, verbal memory, finding words, speech and language impairments. He is unable to work and there is little likelihood of him working in the future.

Mr Bellman sued the Company but the Judge decided that the Company was not liable. However, the Court of Appeal disagreed stating that Mr Major owned the company, was its most senior employee and had full control over how he carried out that role. When he lectured the staff about his authority within the Company he was acting in the role of Managing Director. In addition, the party was a follow-on from a Company-organised Christmas event that had been attended by most employees where the Company was paying for drinks and taxis.

In these circumstances, the Court of Appeal decided that there was sufficient connection between Mr Major’s wrongful conduct and his role as Managing Director and so the Company was vicariously liable for his actions.

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