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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

28 SEP 2015

A v (1) Trustees of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (2) Trustees of the Loughborough Blackbook Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (3) Trustees of the Loughborough Southwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses [2015] EWHC 1722 (QB)

Duty of care – abuse – vicarious liability – limitation

  High Court, Queen’s Bench Division: Globe J

  19 June 2015

Notwithstanding issues on limitation, the defendants were held liable to pay damages to the claimant for the historical abuse she had suffered.

The claimant sought damages for sexual abuse that she was subjected to as a young child. Damages were agreed, subject to liability.

 The claimant claimed the defendants, the first of which was the over-arching body of the second and third, had failed to safeguard her from abuse.

 Now an adult, the first issue was whether the claimant’s claim was time-barred by virtue of the Limitation Act (1980). The judge found that the claimant could not have known that her abuse was attributable to an act or omission constituting negligence on the part of the defendants. She therefore lacked the required knowledge for limitation purposes until such time as her solicitors were served with the defendants’ witness evidence in 2014. The claim could therefore proceed.

 In the alternative, the defendants argued that the delay in commencing proceedings had adversely affected the cogency of the evidence to the extent that a fair trial would not be possible. Exercising its discretion under s 33, the court dismissed the argument, noting that there was always going to be difficulty with the evidence as is usual in historical sex abuse cases.

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APIL Personal Injury

APIL Personal Injury

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In determining liability, the court was invited to decide whether the defendants could be held vicariously liable for the acts of the perpetrator. The court held that they could because the acts of intimacy were only possible because of the status of the minister. There was therefore a sufficiently close link between him, the defendants and the harmful act.

In finding for the claimant, the court held that there was a duty of care owed to the claimant and that duty had been breached, largely because there claimant’s mother was not warned about what was happening to her daughter and therefore could not take steps to protect her.

This is the latest in a line of cases which clearly demonstrates that ‘[t]he law of vicarious liability is on the move’ as stated by Lord Phillips in [2012] UKSC 56, and that vicarious liability is no longer limited to employees of the defendant acting in the course of their employment.

Summarised by Adam Dyl, Anthony Gold Solicitors