Vicarious Liability - Where Can The Line Be Drawn?

In the English case of Nassir Kafagi v JBW Group Limited [2018] EWCA Civ 1157, the Court of Appeal refused to find that the defendant was vicariously liable for the actions of a contractor. As previously narrated in our updates on Vicarious liability remains on the move... and Vicarious liability - Scotland moves in the same direction as England & Wales, the recent trend has been to extend the scope of vicarious liability and so this decision offers useful guidance on the limits of the modern approach.


Mr Kafagi, the claimant, alleged that he had been assaulted by two bailiffs who were at his property to collect council tax arrears.

The first bailiff (Mr Boylan) had been sub-contracted by JBW Group (the defendant) to collect the debt on behalf of the local authority. The presence of the second bailiff (Mr Fenwick) had been arranged by the first bailiff without the defendant's knowledge.

The bailiffs had each paid a £10,000 bond to the local court as was required of all bailiffs carrying on business. Mr Boylan also had his own indemnity insurance.

Procedural History

The claim was raised in the County Court where the district judge heard an argument restricted to the nature of the relationship between the defendant and the two bailiffs. The district judge, Coonan, dismissed the case on the basis that the bailiffs were not employed by the defendant.

The claimant appealed to the recorder who found that the relationship was not one of or akin to employment and upheld the district judge's decision.

The claimant was granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal because the law of vicarious liability and its application to the activities of bailiffs and others involved in enforcement was of potentially wider significance. The decision to grant permission also recognised the strength of recent authority extending the scope of vicarious liability; although it should be noted that the Supreme Court's judgments in Cox and Armes were published after the recorder's decision in this case.

The Court of Appeal decision

The Court of Appeal's decision hinged on whether or not the relationship between the defendant and the two bailiffs had particular characteristics which justified the imposition of vicarious liability. The court relied upon principals drawn from three recent Supreme Court Judgements; The Catholic Child Welfare Society and others v Various Claimants and others [2012] UKSC 56 (Christian Brothers); Cox v Ministry of Justice...

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