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Vicarious liability in abuse cases: Recent update

Vicarious liability in abuse cases: Recent update

In general, a Claimant has couple of routes to compensation arising from physical, emotional and sexual abuse. A claim for compensation could be made to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), pursue the abuser directly or pursue an authority for vicarious liability who had responsibility for the abuser (such an employer, local authority, religious group etc).

In the latter, an employer is liable for an employee’s negligent actions if they were committed in the course or scope of the employee’s employment or are closely connected with what the employee is authorised by the employer to do. The case of MAGA v The Trustees of the Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church (2010) considered what the Court would examine in such cases:

  • the opportunity that the enterprise afforded the employee to abuse his or her power;
  • the extent to which the wrongful act may have furthered the employer’s aims (and hence be more likely to have been committed by the employee);
  • the extent to which the wrongful act was related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer’s enterprise;
  • the extent of power conferred on the employee in relation to the victim;
  • the vulnerability of potential victims to wrongful exercise of the employee’s power.

In BXB v Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania and another (2020), the High Court considered whether the Jehovah’s witnesses were vicariously liable or the rape of an adult member of the organisation committed by an elder.

The background to the case was that in 1990 the claimant, who was a member of the Barry Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was raped by an elder of the organisation. The structure of the congregation was such that Elders are mature male members who have been appointed based on their scriptural qualifications, and entrusted to shepherd the congregation. The elder began to behave inappropriately towards the claimant and other female members of the organisation. She sought advice from the perpetrator’s father, also an elder of the organisation, who advised her to continue to be there for his son as he was struggling mentally. A short while after, the claimant was raped at the perpetrator’s house after a day out pioneering. Her husband and his wife were in the next room. The perpetrator was convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The Court decided that the organisation was vicariously liable for the rape of the claimant. It was accepted that by appointment, elders are spiritual leaders of the congregation and integral to the ‘business’ of a congregation. It was put that the relationship between an elder and the Jehovah’s Witness organisation is akin to the relationship between a priest and the Catholic Church.

The Claimant was awarded £62,000 for her pain, suffering and loss of amenity. The parties were invited to agree financial losses between themselves.

Johnathan Steventon-Kiy, specialist personal injury lawyer, says:

“Claims for arising from historic physical, emotional and sexual abuse are very complex and input from specialist solicitors is required to ensure that the Claimant receives the compensation that they deserve. If you, or anyone you know, has been the victim of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, contact Biscoes Solicitors for a free consultation and advice. We are able to pursue claims on a no win no fee basis.”

Contact our specialist personal injury, medical negligence and industrial disease solicitors on 0800 413 463 or visit for more information. You can also follow us on twitter using the handle @biscoesmedneg


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The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.