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Employer Escapes Vicarious Liability for Salesman’s Negligence

Companies are routinely ordered to pay compensation for the negligent acts of their employees – but only if they are at work at the relevant time. In one case involving a salesman who walked into the path of a cycling policeman, the Court of Appeal found that the former was not acting in the course of his employment.

The policeman suffered serious knee injuries in a fall from his motorised bicycle after the salesman walked across the road without looking. There was no dispute that the salesman was negligent. When questioned by police after the accident, he gave his nearby workplace as his address. He was walking towards the shop where he was employed and was wearing his work uniform. In those circumstances, a judge found his employer vicariously liable for the accident.

However, in overturning that ruling and exonerating the employer, the Court noted that the collision occurred 45 minutes after the end of the salesman’s shift and that there was no direct evidence that he was still working. It was hardly unusual for him still to be wearing his uniform so soon after his working day had ended and the fact that he gave his employment address to the police was irrelevant.