The Court of Appeal recently found that an employer was not liable for the severe injuries caused by an employee who, while at work and apparently as a prank, had put highly inflammable thinning agent on to the clothes of a workmate and ignited them. This case creates some very sensible dividing lines between what an employer is, and is not, liable for in relation to the actions of his employees.
The judge ruled that, although the employer had created a risk by requiring its employees to work with thinning agents, it was difficult to say that the creation of that risk was sufficiently “closely connected” with the perpetrator’s highly reckless act of splashing the thinner on to the claimant’s overalls and then using a cigarette lighter in his vicinity. The wrongful act had not furthered the employer’s aims and it was inappropriate to talk either of power conferred on the perpetrator in relation to the claimant or any other particular vulnerability of the claimant to the wrongful exercise of such power. The real cause of the injuries suffered was the no doubt frolicsome but reckless conduct of the perpetrator which could not be said to have occurred in the course of his employment