The Court of Appeal has found that an employer was not liable for the injury caused to a contractor when one of its employees played a practical joke that went wrong in Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd. There had been tension between external contractors and employees on one of the respondent’s sites as there was concern among some employees that their jobs were at risk. As a joke, one of the employees brought in some pellets that exploded if struck, and placed them on a contractor’s (Mr Chell’s) workbench and struck them. This caused Mr Chell’s eardrum to perforate, hearing loss and tinnitus.

Applying earlier authorities, the Court of Appeal found that there was not sufficient connection between the employer-employee relationship and the prank, so the employer was not vicariously liable for the individual’s actions. Lady Justice Nicola Davies stated that “the risk created by this employee was not inherent in the business” and “on no basis could it be said that [the employee] was authorised to do what he did by Tarmac.” Further it was found “it would be unreasonable and unrealistic to expect an employer to have in place a system to ensure that their employees did not engage in horseplay.” Nor was his act an unlawful mode of doing something authorised by Tarmac.” Today’s decision will give some comfort to employers. If the actions of an employee are not connected to the activities they are employed to do, then it is unlikely the employer will be found vicariously liable for any loss suffered.