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Vicarious liability comes to a sudden stop - Sam Way, Devereux Chambers

20/07/20. A return to principle over policy in WM Morrisons Supermarkets plc v Various Claimants [2020] UKSC 12 and Barclays Bank plc v Various Claimants [2020] UKSC 13

Introduction

In two cases, each addressing a different boundary to the application of vicarious liability, the Supreme Court has brought an end to the policy-driven expansion of the doctrine in favour of a return to clear legal principles that should bring increased certainty in an area which has lacked clarity over recent years.

WM Morrisons Supermarkets plc v Various Claimants [2020] UKSC 12

These were the lead cases in group litigation by 9,263 employees or former employees of the well-known supermarket chain. Another of Morrisons’ employees had published their personal details on the internet as part of a disclosure designed to damage Morrisons. He had harboured a grudge against Morrisons after having been given a verbal warning for minor misconduct, and had attempted to frame one of those who had been involved in those disciplinary proceedings. Morrisons were held at trial to be vicariously liable for its employee’s breach of statutory duty under the Data Protection Act 1998, misuse of private information and breach of confidence. Following the reasoning of the Supreme Court in Mohamud v WM Morrisons Supermarkets plc [2016] UKSC 11, there was an unbroken sequence of events between the activities for which the employee was employed, and his tortious acts, such that it was right that Morrisons were to be held liable...

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