The High Court has recently dismissed a claim against a school by a former pupil (MXX), finding it was not vicariously liable for the actions of a work experience student, who committed torts against her.


MXX was a pupil at the defendant school where she met a work experience placement (WEP) student (PXM), who was shadowing a PE teacher for a week. PXM was convicted in 2015 of having perpetrated serious offences against MXX, when she was aged 13. MXX relied on those convictions, in pursuing a compensation claim against the school, in respect of those torts committed against her.

Vicarious Liability

A central issue was whether the school were vicariously liable for the actions of PXM. The High Court applied the two-stage vicarious liability test, developed in a series of Supreme Court decisions.

Firstly, the Court considered if the relationship between the school and PXM was capable of giving rise to vicarious liability. PXM was neither employee nor independent contractor. He was held out to pupils as a staff member, so in that respect, the relationship was akin to employment. However, on balance, the school had effectively granted the WEP as a favour to PXM and did not derive benefit from his presence in any real sense. It was therefore not fair, just or reasonable to conclude that this one week placement amounted to a relationship akin to employment.

The second stage of the test was to consider whether there was a close connection between the school and PXM.

The torts were committed many weeks after conclusion of the WEP. Whilst the WEP gave an opportunity for PXM to meet the Claimant, this was quite different to those cases where torts were committed during a period of work and continued after the work had ceased.

MXX was the subject of abhorrent criminal behaviour. These acts were not connected with the school’s activity and the court concluded the school was not liable.

If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please contact Adrian Neale, Associate.

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