Church not liable for actions

Maga v The Trustees of the Birmingham Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church (Queen's Bench Division - 22 April 2009)

The claimant (who suffers from learning difficulties) sought damages against the Catholic church for sexual abuse perpetrated on the claimant by a priest when he was 12 or 13.

The claimant himself was not Catholic but became acquainted with the priest, who engaged the claimant to carry out small jobs, such as cleaning his cars. The priest did not involve the claimant in the activities of the church itself, such as attending services, and did not seek to engage with him on any religious level.

The court held that the priest's association with the claimant was founded on his use of the claimant to wash his car, to do cleaning in the Presbytery and in other houses and to iron his clothes. That employment was not a priestly activity and the priest did not do anything to draw the claimant into the activities of the church. It was therefore held that the assaults that the priest carried out on the claimant were not so closely connected with his employment or quasi-employment by the church that it would be fair and just to hold the church liable.

Comment

The court's decision not to hold the church vicariously liable for the priest's actions, shows that it is still possible to avoid vicarious liability for at least some acts carried out by employees.

The judgment makes interesting reading on several levels as Mr Justice Jack made findings on the claimant's mental capacity, and discussed limitation issues in detail. - James Chambers, BLM London.

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