Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd
Court of Appeal
Citations:  EWCA Civ 2214;  1 All ER 1133;  ICR 459;  IRLR 66;  2 CL 233.
The claimant was the defendant’s employee. He attended a staff Christmas party arranged and paid for by the defendant’s managing director. After the party, the managing director arranged for some of the group to move a nearby hotel and continue drinking.
During a conversation at the hotel, the claimant mentioned that one of the new employees was being paid more than everyone else. The managing director summoned the other employees and began to the lecture the claimant about how he could run the business however he liked. The claimant talked back, and the managing director responded by punching him. He sustained serious brain injuries as a result.
The claimant sued the defendant. He argued that the defendant was vicariously liable for the tort (battery) of the managing director. The defendant argued that there was no close connection between the battery and their employment relationship with the managing director. This was because the drinking at the hotel was unconnected with the business.
- Was there a sufficiently close connection between the battery and the employment relationship?
The Court of Appeal held in favour of the claimant. There was a sufficiently close relationship between the attack and the relationship. The managing director had broad authority at the business, was still in his role as managing director at the hotel. He was acting to assert his authority as the defendant’s director when he attacked the claimant.
This Case is Authority For…
What acts fall within the ‘field of activities’ assigned to an employee is to be assessed broadly according to the nature of the job. This is not based solely on what the employee is authorised to do. It includes misuse or abuse of authority.
Asplin J noted that:
‘[T]he mere opportunity of being present at a particular time or place does not mean that the act is within the relevant field of activities.’
This was not the case on the current facts, however.