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Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd, House of Lords, 3 May 2001

8 May 2001
The issues

Negligence – Employer’s Duty – Vicarious Liability – Residential Schools – Whether An Employer Can Be Liable For Sexual Abuse Committed By An Employee

The facts

Hesley Hall Limited ran a school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties. G was employed as a Warden and House Keeper. Between 1979 and 1982 G subjected the Claimants to systematic sexual abuse. He sued Hesley Hall Limited on the grounds that it was negligent in selecting, appointing and supervising G and on the grounds that it was vicariously liable for G’s wrongdoing.

At first instance the Judge dismissed the claim in negligence and held that the Claimant could not be vicariously liable for the sexual assaults themselves which could not possibly come within G’s scope of duties as employee. However, the Judge held that Hesley Hall Limited was liable vicariously for G’s failure to report any harm which he perceived had come to any of the boys in his care.

The Court of Appeal allowed Hesley Hall Limited’s appeal on the grounds that if the sexual assaults were themselves outside the course of his employment the failure to prevent or report hose assaults could not possibly be within the course of him employment.

The decision

1. The Court of Appeal had taken the wrong approach in trying to decide whether the acts for which an employer was sought to be held vicariously liable were modes of doing authorised acts. This was simplistic and erroneous.

2. The proper approach was to adopt a broad assessment of the nature of the employees employment.

3. If that approach was adopted it was possible to look at the question of vicarious liability on the basis that Hesley Hall Limited had undertaken to care for the boys in its care through the services of G. ST v North Yorkshire County Council was wrongly decided.

4. The determining factor was whether or not G’s wrongdoing was so closely associated with his employment that it would be fair and just to hold Hesley Hall Limited vicariously liable and on the facts of this case the answer was yes.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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