Employer not liable for injury at office party

The Claimant attended a Christmas party organised by her employer, Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

One of those at the party was Mr Bielik. He worked for the Wolfson Institute and, although he was not an employee of CRUK, the work the Wolfson Institute did for CRUK entitled him to attend the party. According to witnesses, Mr Bielik was ‘clearly very drunk’.

When the Claimant was on the dance floor, Mr Bielik attempted to pick her up but lost his balance and dropped her, resulting in her suffering a serious back injury

Prior to lifting the Claimant, Mr Bielik had lifted three other women, without their consent, none of whom reported the matter.


In proceedings in the County Court, the Claimant claimed compensation for her injury from CRUK, alleging that her injury had been caused by their negligence; alternatively, that they were vicariously liable for Mr Bielik’s actions.

The substance of her claim for negligence was that CRUK should have done more to prevent the accident. Her argument was that, once it is established that a party involves the provision of alcohol which can, sometimes, cause some people to behave inappropriately, there needs to be:

(a) a written declaration, signed by the attendees, that they will not behave inappropriately;
(b) a risk assessment encompassing eventualities stemming from all such forms of inappropriate behaviour;
(c) trained staff to supervise the event ; and
(d) special training for those responsible for the provision of a risk assessment, covering all envisaged forms of inappropriate behaviour.


The County Court dismissed the claim against CRUK.

The court accepted that CRUK owed a duty of care to the Claimant; the issue was, rather, the extent of the duty of care. The court ruled that CRUK’s duty of care to the Claimant did not require it to put in place the measures suggested by the Claimant to guard against the actions of a drunken party goer and the Claimant’s proposals were not appropriate to impose on the organisers of a Christmas party.

So, if CRUK was not itself negligent, should it be held responsible for Mr Bielik’s actions? Not so, according to the court which ruled that there was no sufficient connection between what happened at the party and Mr Bielik’s research work for CRUK to give rise to vicarious liability on the part of CRUK .

A further appeal by the Claimant to the High Court was dismissed

Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK [2019] EWHC 842 (QB) (9 April 2019) (Lane J).

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