Storey v Ashton [1869] LR 4 QB 476

Tort law – Master and servant – Negligent driving


The defendant in this case, was a wine merchant who, in the course of employment, sent his clerk and his car man off with a horse and cart to make a delivery of wine and collect and return the empty bottles. During their journey from doing this, rather than completing this task set by the employer, the car man was told by the clerk to drive in the opposite direction to visit his brother-in-law as it was past 3.00pm on a Saturday and outside of business hours. Following this change of direction, the car man ran over the plaintiff.


The issue in this case was whether the defendant could be said to be at fault for the actions of his employees at a time that they were not directly acting on behalf of him, but still using his equipment. It was an important to draw a line between negligence arising out of a master’s instruction and when the employee could be said to be operating on the basis of his own act.


The defendant was not liable in this instance as the court considered that the car man was operating a new and independent journey from the one he was instructed to do. The court surmised that as it was after business hours, the incident that harmed the plaintiff could be considered to have taken place outside the course of his employment. With this being said, the court still emphasised the strict nature of an employee acting under an employers instruction.