Posted February 23, 2016

Vicarious Liability – When is an employer held liable for the actions of security staff or bar staff?

Key Points

  • The conduct of the employee must be directly related to their employment. If there is sufficient connection between the wrongful conduct and the conduct the employee was employed to perform, vicarious liability will attach.
  • It is important to look at:
    • What the employer authorises the employer to do. In the case of security guards, the employer authorises a security guard to use reasonable force against patrons during the course of their employment – it’s part of the guard’s course of employment (Further example see Ferguson v Calanan & Ranieri [2002] QSC 342);
    • The following cases explain vicarious liability in context.

Case 1: Lamble v Howl at the Moon Broadbeach Pty Ltd

What happened

The Defendant was assaulted by a barman who used a mental rubbish collector with a long handle and struck the Plaintiff’s head, outside a bar in Broadbeach.

The defence argued that the employer was not vicariously liable because the barman had not acted within the scope of authority as a bartender and that he had been instructed orally and in writing to become involved in crowd control, fights or security issues.

The outcome

Despite evidence of some degree of intoxication by the Plaintiff, it was submitted by the Plaintiff that in an action for trespass to the person, contributory negligence cannot be pleaded against the Plaintiff, nor does the Civil Liability Act apply – see also Sinclair v Caloundra Sub-Branch RSL Services Club Inc [2001} QDC 196.

However, if the Plaintiffs conduct is criminal, section 45 of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld) might apply as to provide a defendant with a defence.

Case 2: Ryan v Ann Street Holdings Pty Ltd

What happened

The case of Ryan involved a nightclub proprietor for the actions of its security staff. If a security guard attacks a patron for no good reason, can the proprietor be liable for damages to the patron?

In Ryan’s case, the security guard requested that Ryan go back into the Beat nightclub after the club had closed. The Security Staff then assaulted Ryan causing him personal injury.

The outcome

The Court found that the employer was vicariously liable for the actions of the security staff.


  • Assault by security guards or bar staff that occur during the course of employment will generally mean that an employer is found to be vicariously liable for the security or bar staff conduct.

Sources of relevant cases mentioned

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