With the festive season behind us, you may have reminisced about tales from the work’s Christmas party on your return to the office, to wash away the January blues and lighten the post-Christmas gloom.
Whilst most Christmas parties are a chance to ‘let your hair down’ and celebrate your hard work during the year with colleagues, Cancer Research UK’s Christmas party unfortunately resulted in a claim for personal injury (Shelbourne v Cancer Research UK  EWHC 842) when one of its employees sustained a spinal injury on the dance floor.
In Shelbourne the Claimant was physically lifted up and dropped by a visiting scientist, when on the dancefloor at her workplace Christmas party, causing her to sustain a spinal injury.
The party had been organised by a team of volunteers to be held in the lobby/canteen of the research institute building. There was alcohol, food a disco and games at the party.
A risk assessment had been undertaken but only identified the risk of partygoers returning to labs after the consumption of alcohol, and guests were asked to sign a disclaimer confirming they would not attempt to work in the labs after consuming alcohol.
After the incident, an internal investigation found that steps should be taken to ensure that guests behave responsibly.
Shelbourne claimed against her employer alleging (a) inadequate organisation/supervision of the party; and (b) that the employer (Cancer Research UK) was vicariously liable for the actions of the co-worker who had lifted her up.
Allegations of negligence were wide ranging, including that: the organiser ought to have warned attendees about their behaviour; there should have been policies about alcohol consumption; and the intervention of intoxicated guests.
Whist the visiting scientist was not employed by Cancer Research UK the Judge considered he was sufficiently integral to the business, and so the employer could be at last potentially vicariously liable. However, he considered that there was an insufficient connection between the scientist’s role and his conduct at the party, and specifically that his actions were not within the ‘field of activities’ expected of him as a visiting scientist.
The Judge at first instance (Recorder Catford) was satisfied that the employer had taken reasonable care, and on appeal, the Judge agreed, so Shelbourne’s claim ultimately failed, and she was left to contemplate a claim against the scientist.
So next time you’re thinking of recreating the famous Patrick Swayze lift in Dirty Dancing, perhaps opt for the ‘macarena’ or ‘the moonwalk’.
If you think you have a personal injury claim you'd like to discuss with our Personal Injury & Clinical Negligence specialists, please do get in touch with the team via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01603 610911.