In a ruling which serves as a reminder that employers are unlikely to be held vicariously liable for accidents that occur as a result of workers’ frivolous behaviour, a car repair company has fought off a six-figure compensation claim by one of its workers who was recklessly set on fire by a colleague as a shop floor prank went terribly wrong.

The worker was very badly burned and left permanently scarred when his colleague, a close friend, sprayed his overalls with highly flammable solvent and then flicked his cigarette lighter in the vicinity. The pair had earlier been seen ‘mucking about and chasing each other’ around the shop floor.

Lawyers representing the worker sued his employer, claiming approximately £170,000 in damages. However, in dismissing his challenge to an earlier decision to like effect, the Court of Appeal ruled that his colleague had been on a ‘frolic’ of his own and that his reckless actions had had nothing to do with his employment.

Although the Court had sympathy for the worker, it was inappropriate to hold the company vicariously liable. The Court concluded, “The real cause of his injuries was the no doubt frolicsome but reckless conduct of his colleague which cannot be said to have occurred in the course of his employment.”

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