London County Council v Cattermoles

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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London County Council v Cattermoles (Garages) Ltd [1953] 1 WLR 997

Employer’s vicarious liability for an employee’s negligence while performing an unauthorised act.


A man was employed as a garage as a general garage hand, during which he would assist in moving cars out of the way of other cars by pushing them by hand. He had been forbidden to drive the cars as he did not have a driving license. Whilst moving a van, he chose to drive the van on a highway, colliding and damaging another car. The injured party claimed damages from the employer. 


The question arose as to whether the driver was acting within scope of his employment when he drove the van and whether, accordingly, the employer can be held liable for the damage caused as a result of the driver’s negligence.


The Court held that, when he damaged the car, the employee was acting within the scope of his employment to move cars out of the way in the garage and the mode by which he chose to perform his duties was a subsidiary part of the function itself. The Court held that the fact that the man’s actions were not authorised by the employer did not render the actions outside the scope of employment as he merely selected “an unauthorised method of doing an authorised act.” (p 1007) Further, the fact that the damage incurred outside the place of employment was irrelevant to the employer’s vicarious liability. Albeit in an unauthorised manner, the man was fulfilling his express duties to his employer when he drove the van. Accordingly, the man’s actions were within the remit of his scope of employment and the employer is variously liable for the consequences. Thus, the employer was held liable for the damages incurred as a result of the employee’s negligent driving of the van.

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