In simple terms, vicarious liability is where an employer can be found liable for the acts and omissions of their employees who are acting in the course of their employment.
In what is the first class action brought in the UK concerning a data leak, WM Morrisons Supermarket has been found liable to compensate staff members whose data including salary details and bank details were stolen by a former employee, Andrew Skelton.
The case followed a major security breach at Morrisons in 2014 when Andrew Skelton who was then a senior internal auditor, harvested the staff data before leaking it to third parties.
The High Court in England ruled that those staff members who had been harmed as a result of their data being stolen could claim compensation from Morrisons for the upset and distress that this caused.
This case may acts as a further reminder as to how far vicarious liability can stretch and follows Mohammed v WM Morrisons.
Effectively, as the law is now, an employer may be vicariously liable for the criminal actions of a rogue employee disclosing personal information of co-employees for wrongful gain.
It is of note that Morrisons were found not to be at fault under primary liability for breach of the Data Protection Act however they were still vicariously responsible for the acts and omissions of their employee who was found to be acting in the course of their employment.
It is perhaps worth noting in this decision that the wrongful acts committed by Mr Skelton were deliberately aimed against Morrisons, who the various claimants then sought to hold responsible for the wrongful act. This caused the court some concern as they were confronted with the notion that they may simply have been an accessory in furthering Mr Skelton’s criminal aims.
Morrisons have confirmed that they would seek to appeal this decision.
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