An employer was found not to be liable for an employee's
serious injury caused by an assault during drinks held after the
office Christmas party.
Mr Major was the managing director of Northampton Recruitment
Limited. He hired Mr Bellman, who was a childhood friend of his, as
a sales manager. Northampton's office Christmas party in 2011
was held at a golf club. After that, Mr Major, Mr Bellman and
around half of the guests went back to the hotel in which some
people were staying. Northampton paid for the taxi fares from the
golf club to the hotel.
Many of the group at the hotel continued drinking into the early
hours of the morning. Conversation turned to work-related matters
at around 2:00am including, in particular, a controversial issue
about which Mr Major lost his temper. Mr Bellman challenged him in
a non-aggressive way. Nonetheless, Mr Major swore at Mr Bellman and
punched him twice, despite the efforts of another colleague to
restrain Mr Major.
The second punch caused Mr Bellman to fall and hit his head on
the floor. He fractured his skull and fell unconscious. It later
emerged that Mr Bellman had been severely brain damaged and would
not be able to work again.
Mr Bellman brought a personal injury claim against Northampton,
alleging that the company was vicariously liable for Mr Major's
The High Court dismissed Mr Bellman's claim, holding that
Northampton was not liable for the assault. It took into account
that Mr Major ran the company with a wide remit, and it was
ultimately at his discretion that Northampton paid for the party,
drinks, taxis and accommodation. However, the Court held that the
drinks at the hotel were 'impromptu' and not part of the
Christmas party and Mr Major could not be said to be on duty at the
time of the assault. The mere fact that the drinkers were
colleagues and were talking about work at the time did not create
enough of a connection to Mr Major's employment to render
This case is one of many which discuss the circumstances in
which an employer will be vicariously liable for the harm caused by
its employees' wrongdoing. Whilst at first blush this may look
like a very employer-friendly case, this decision does not mean
that employers will never be liable for harm caused at an
'after-party', as each case will depend on its own
Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd  EWHC
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