Lister v Hesley Hall Ltd [2002] 1 AC 215

Employer’s vicarious liability for personal injury caused by torts committed by employees. 


A warden was employed at an annex of a boarding school for boys and responsible for the day-to-day running of the school, discipline of the boys, organisation of their daily activities, as well as supervision and care of the boys after school hours. Between 1979 and 1982, the warden had sexually abused a number of the boys, yet unbeknownst to his employers. The sexual abuse took numerous forms and was usually administered in the context of the warden’s control and discipline at the boarding school.


The question arose as to whether the employers of the warden may be held vicariously liable for their employee’s intentional sexual abuse of school boys placed under his care.


The House of Lords held that vicarious liability can arise for unauthorised, intentional wrongdoings committed by an employee acting for his own benefit, in so far as there exists a connection between the wrongdoings and the work for which he was employed to render it within the scope of employment. The Court rejected the restrictive view that vicarious liability could only arise when the employee is acting for his employer’s benefit. On the facts of the case, the Court held that there was a sufficient connection between the work that the warden was employed to do and the abuse that he committed to render it within the scope of employment. The abuse was committed at the time, premises and during the course of the warden’s care of the boys. The warden’s function was to care for the boys and the fact that he performed that function in an abusive manner does not sever the connection with his employment for the purposes of vicarious liability. Accordingly, the employers were held liable.

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