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Employer was not liable for office prank injury, judge rules

A National Health Service trust does not have to compensate an employee for injuries sustained when her colleague pulled away her chair as a joke, a court has decided, as her co-worker’s “act of folly” was outside the scope of his work, a court has ruled. 

Employer was not liable for prank injury, judge rules
©Andy Drysdale/REX/Shutterstock
Employer-was-not-liable-for-prank-injury-judge-rules_Meeta Patel_Image-Nevile-Ayling
Meeta Patel. Image credit: Nevile Ayling

Pharmacist Meeta Patel claimed £58,000 compensation from Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust after she sustained damage to her lower spine and coccyx when Rashid Khan deliberately pulled her chair away as she sat down at Homerton University Hospital in Hackney, east London in August 2012.

Patel claimed the NHS trust was indirectly liable for her colleague’s “act of folly”.

However, Judge Heather Baucher dismissed the case on 13 October at the Central London County Court, ruling that Khan was acting “outside the scope of his work”.

The judge cleared the trust of any wrongdoing and ruled that Khan was “acting in a purely private capacity, unconnected with his work”.

Judge Baucher told the court: “I find that he deliberately moved this chair on the spur of the moment, and almost with a flick of his hand.

“He had no reason to do so, there was no malicious intent. It was an act of pure folly”.

In his evidence, Khan had said he could not explain why he had moved the chair. Judge Baucher said: “With hindsight, he said that he thought Patel saw him do it – move the chair – and that she would laugh.”

Earlier, Patel had told the court that Khan had tried to move her chair once before, but that she spotted him in time.

The ruling follows a similar judgment, handed down in the Court of Appeal in February 2015, in which the employer Commercial Bodyworks was successful in avoiding a finding of vicarious liability. In that case, the claimant, Paul Graham, failed to convince the court that his co-worker’s act of negligence had occurred in the “course of employment”. 


Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner


  • Good to see common sense

    Permalink Submitted by mike on 17 October 2017 - 01:21 pm

    Good to see common sense prevail. These nonsense claims need to be stopped.

  • I feel for the victim, who

    Permalink Submitted by Harry on 17 October 2017 - 09:35 pm

    I feel for the victim, who should not have suffered these injuries needlessly. But she should have taken action against her colleague, who was the only person at fault. Too often people take action against the party with the deepest pockets rather than the one who is at fault. I am surprised her solicitor even persued the claim. I expect they thought the NHS Trust would just settle out of court quickly to avoid costs.

    • While I feel sorry for the

      Permalink Submitted by Jeremy Rowland on 9 March 2018 - 12:29 pm

      While I feel sorry for the victim the reality of life is that we all play practical jokes on others and have received similar treatment ourselves during our lifetime; I recall this being done to me as a child my reaction was to wait for the perpetrator to stand up and immediately I snatched the chair from under him and he hit the floor as I also had done. Okay so no harm was done but even if it had what would it matter? You can't take time back why do I find myself living in a community that simply seeks to blame somebody for an incident like this or for a genuine accident merely for compensation. I think that we need to be more aware of our own personal safety and to stop blaming others all the time; perhaps there should be a legal claims limit to stop this claim for this and claim for that attitude?

      • Jerry... compensation is to

        Permalink Submitted by mike h on 20 May 2018 - 05:44 am

        Jerry... compensation is to replace ones loss. Monetary compensation is not the same as monetary gain ( profit). In the above case, it wasn't an accident.

  • Interesting this came up at

    Permalink Submitted by Bridget on 19 October 2017 - 03:31 pm

    Interesting this came up at the same time as this www.ioshmagazine.com/article/v-vicarious-liability

  • Reading the comment from the

    Permalink Submitted by John on 20 October 2017 - 11:00 pm

    Reading the comment from the news report I feel that there could be enough evidence to being a private prosecution against the other party due to the actions by pulling the chair away which caused an injury. Pranks which cause long lasting injury at work can have affect on an individual performance and could cause taking days of sick. While the prankster is fully fit to perform there full duties.


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