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Hendersons - Barristers' Chambers
News 21st May 2015

Employer’s liability does not extend to employee’s free time activities

Malcolm Sheehan QC and James Williams act for the Ministry of Defence in the successful defence of a multi-million pound employer’s liability claim Vaughan v Ministry of Defence [2015] EWHC 1404 (QB). The court held that an employer’s liability does not extend to employee’s free time activities.

The Claimant Royal Marine suffered injuries leading to incomplete tetraplegia as a result of a shallow dive carried out on a public beach in the Canary Islands. The Claimant was in the Canary Islands as a participant in an Adventurous Training sailing trip organised by the Armed Forces. During a period of free time the Claimant went the beach with fellow marines.

The Claimant argued that the Ministry of Defence owed him a duty of care to warn him about the dangers of diving into shallow water because his visit to the beach during the Adventurous Training trip was in the course of or incidental to his employment. As a Royal Marine the Claimant was required to maintain a high level of physical fitness and it was argued that by swimming at the beach the Claimant was complying with this instruction.

In a judgment handed down on 20 May 2015 Mr Justice William Davis held that the Claimant had chosen how to spend this free time and that he visited the beach in order to relax and enjoy himself. Whilst the Claimant swam at the beach he did not do so as part of the requirements of his employment.

The court accepted the Defendant’s submission that the duty contended for by the Claimant would be almost limitless. It also accepted the Defendant’s case that there was no duty on the part of the Ministry of Defence to risk assess activities that took place outside of the scope of the employee’s employment.

This case considers the boundaries of an employer’s duty of care and is likely to prove useful to defendants faced with claims made by employees arising from accidents occurring during periods of free time.

A copy of the judgment is here.

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