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Law Notes Tort Law Notes

Vicarious Liability Notes

Updated Vicarious Liability Notes

Tort Law Notes

Tort Law

Approximately 1070 pages

Tort Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB tort law cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents


McDermid v Nash Dredging [1987] 2 All ER 878 2


Stevens, Torts and Rights (2007) 257–274 3

Kidner, Vicarious Liability: For Whom Should the Employer be Liable? 3

Employees and borrowed employees 4

JGE v Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust 4

Mersey Docks v Coggins 5

*Cassidy v Minister of Health [1951] 2 QB 343 5

Ready Mixed Concrete v Minister of Pension 6

*Viasystems (Tyneside) Ltd v Thermal Transfer (Northern) Ltd [2005] EWCA Civ 1151, [2006] QB 510 6

Biffa Waste Services Ltd v Maschinenfabrik Abrik Ernst Hese GmbH [2008] EWCA Civ 1257, [2009] QB 725, [41]-[61] 7

Hawley v Luminar 7

*Various Claimants v Catholic Child Welfare Society [2012] UKSC 56, [2013] 2 AC 1 7

NOTE Lord Hope, ‘Tailoring the law on vicarious liability’ (2013) 129 LQR 514 8

*Cox v Ministry of Justice [2016] UKSC 10, [2016] 2 WLR 806 9

Independent contractors and agents 9

McKendrick, “Vicarious Liability and Independent Contractors: A Re-examination” 9

Honeywell v Larkin 10

Salsbury v Woodland [1970] 1 QB 324 10

*Woodland v Essex County Council [2013] UKSC 66, [2014] AC 537 10

Course of employment 11

*Rose v Plenty [1976] 1 WLR 141 12

*Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd [2002] 1 AC 215 12

Maga v Birmingham Roman Catholic Church 13

NOTE Hoyano (Tort Law Review) 13

*Mohamud v WM Morrison Supermarkets Plc [2016] UKSC 11, [2016] 2 WLR 821 13

*Weddal v Barchester (Wallbank v Royal Bank) 14

Century Insurance v Northern Ireland Road Transport 14

Launchbury v Morgans 14


McDermid v Nash Dredging [1987] 2 All ER 878

Vicarious liability is justified on policy arguments and object is to ensure that liability is borne by a D with the means to compensate V (so far as it is fair, just and reasonable to do so)

Facts: C (inexperienced 18yo) employed by D as deckhand and sent to work on a tug and suffered serious injury caused by negligence of master of the ship (T).

Held: D held not to be VL because T is not D’s EE, but nevertheless D was liable because he owed a non-delegable duty to C (before, ER owed NDD to provide competent staff, proper plant and equipment, safe place and safe system of work to EEs, but this case extended this to operation (as distinct from provision) of a safe system of work).


Lord Hailsham:

  • In this case the duty was ND in the sense that it could be delegated but D would still be liable if it is not performed (NB Denning in Cassidy – was that case one of an NDD?)

  • In this case D had delegated their NDD to the master of the ship and it had been inadequately performed.

NB their lordships thought the extension from provision to operation was self-evident but this isn’t so as provision was under the control of ER while operation depends on isolated acts of negligence by an IC over which ER has no control. Thus the effect is as if VL had been imposed on D (per McKendrick)


I. General Principles

  • A secondary liability imposed on one person for the tort of another (this party is usually better able to satisfy the judgment than tortfeasor)

  • Most significant instance: tortfeasor is an employee of vicariously liable party (or relationships ‘akin to employment’, but not for independent contractors)

  • In an employment case court asks whether there is a sufficiently close connection between tort and relationship

  • Non-delegable duty: tasks creating risks can be delegated, but duties in relation to these cannot (different from VL because here it someone else’s breach for your duty – it is primary liability)

II. Requirements

  1. Sufficient relationship

  2. Sufficient connection with tort

III. Nature of Vicarious Liability

Two alternate views:

  1. Tort is of the vicariously liable party

  2. Tort is of the tortfeasor but liability is of the VLP (greater support of recent cases – Woodland)

IV. Justifications for VL

  • Justice argument: the person who benefits from the activity that created the risk, or who contributed to creating the risk, should take the risk

  • Economic argument: Costs of an enterprise ought to be internalized to stimulate most efficient level of risk-taking

  • Incentive argument: employer has opportunity to select employees/supervise so should provide incentive (doesn’t explain liability where accident is unavoidable)

  • Deep pockets argument: need to compensate victims

Stevens, Torts and Rights (2007) 257–274

I. Policy

  • All arguments suffer from same flaw: fail to explain the “vicarious” part of VL and are arguments for strict liability in general and none justifies confining liability to torts committed by EEs rather than all losses caused by EEs

  • Often said that justifications are accumulated, but if none of them explain “vicarious”, then together they can’t either

II. What is Attributed?

  • Master’s tort theory is usually dismissed as misleading. But it is possible to defend it –

    • We are responsible for actions that we don’t intend (carelessly knocking over a vase).

    • If attribution of A’s actions to B is fictitious, then so are authorization, ratification, procurement and conspiracy

    • Attribution is common outside the law: in sports games one person’s goal is attributed to the nation’s

  • However: attribution can lead to result that EE who carelessly injures himself can sue ER, or an agent who defames himself can sue D who gave authority to publish

    • Thus attribution fails – D simply takes responsibility

  • BUT attribution explains much of modern law of VL:

    • Presents an explanation as to why VL is vicarious

    • Same rules employed for contributory fault as for ER’s liability

    • Corporation’s “acts” are really the acts of the human agents; corporate liability thus necessitates attribution

    • Attribution may result in D committing a tort where EE doesn’t (eg. husband EE injures wife – partners not allowed to sue)

    • Where duty is personal to EE, attribution doesn’t lead to ER tort

    • Non-compensatory remedies illustrate attribution of act

    • If ER who is VL seeks to bring...

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