Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Supreme Court lands further blow to employers

Following the recent case of Muhamud v Morrisons, featured in our recent article, the Supreme Court has dealt a further blow to employers by extending the group of those for whose actions it can be held responsible.

In Cox v Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court held the Prison Service liable for the injuries caused by the negligent actions of a prisoner working in a prison kitchen (who received a nominal wage).

Prisons have an obligation to ensure that prisoners carry out useful work whilst detained, and many prisoners work in kitchens and other in-house services to cut running costs.

Defending the claim for compensation for injuries and losses suffered by Mr Cox, a Catering Manager at the prison, the Ministry of Justice (‘MOJ’) argued that it could not be held liable as an “employer” of the prisoner as the relationship between the two was not that of a typical employer/employee. It argued that the Prison Service was not an organisation with profit making aims and that prisoners were not akin to employees as they have no interest in furthering the aims of the Prison Service. It also argued that it would be unfair, unjust and unreasonable to impose vicarious liability and allowing a claim of this nature would encourage more claims.

The Supreme Court dismissed the MOJ’s arguments, relying on the earlier case of Various Claimants v Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in finding that an employer does not have to be carrying on commercial activities with the aim of profit to be held liable. The Court ruled that if the organisation carries on activities in furtherance of its own interest, and a worker is carrying out tasks in respect of that furtherance, then an employer/employee relationship will be held to exist.

In this case the aim of the Prison Service was the detention and rehabilitation of prisoners. Prisoners working in the kitchen were doing so as part of their rehabilitation and therefore in furtherance of the Prison Service’s aims.

The principles set down in the case of Cox could extend to charity volunteers; they may not be under contract or be paid for their work, but charities could become liable for the actions of those providing support and assistance in furtherance of the charities’ aims.

The Court clearly feels that all organisations retaining ‘workers’ in one form or another should take responsibility for injuries caused by the actions or those under their control. Employers will no doubt be unhappy about the way the law is developing; innocent, often seriously injured victims will be grateful for the chance of redress.

If you wish to discuss a personal injury claim, please contact a member of our specialist team on 0800 316 8892 for advice.