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Vicarious Liability

In Various Claimants v Barclays Bank PLC, the 126 Claimants were applicants for employment or employees of the Bank and alleged that they had been sexually assaulted by a doctor who was carrying out a medical assessment and examination on behalf of the Bank.

A preliminary issue arose as to whether or not the Bank was vicariously liable for any of the assaults. The High Court determined that the Bank was vicariously liable because:

  • The assaults had been committed as a result of the activity being undertaken by the doctor on behalf of the Bank. The Bank controlled the doctor as to what he did, even though they did not direct him how he should do it;
  • There was a sufficiently close connection between the assaults and the carrying out of the doctor’s duties;
  • It was just and reasonable to impose vicarious liability, as this was now the Claimants’ sole recourse as the doctor was now deceased and the complaints had taken place a long time ago.

Comment: This case serves as a useful reminder that in some circumstances employers can be held liable for the acts of third parties, even when the alleged acts are carried out in secret and the employer cannot reasonably be expected to be aware of them.