Last week the courts made a long awaited judgement and held that a local authority could be vicariously liable for torts committed by foster carers against children in local authority care.
Vicarious liability refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person, even if they did not commit the tort themselves. One of the common examples of vicarious liability is in the workplace. An employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided that the act or omission occurred within the course of their employment.
We have seen a huge influx in the past decade with people reporting sexual abuse in children’s care homes, some dating back to the 80’s and also children who were placed in the foster system reporting abuse. Up until now, there has been little victims of abuse in foster care could do in regards to claiming compensation for their ordeal. As society changes and develops it appears the law on vicarious liability is developing too, which is a welcomed, long awaited step in the right direction.
In Armes v Nottinghamshire the Supreme Court reversed a decision made by the Court of Appeal in 2015 and decided that local authorities can be held liable for the for torts committed by foster carers against children in local authority care.
The case involved a woman who was abused as a young child. She had been taken into the care of Nottingham County Council in February 1985, when she was aged seven. Between March 1985 and March 1986 she was fostered by a Mr and Mrs Allison. During that period, she was physically and emotionally abused by Mrs Allison as she would use grossly excessive violence to discipline her. Between October 1987 and February 1988 she was fostered by the Blakely’s. During that period, she was sexually abused by Mr Blakely as he would molest her when bathing her and when she was alone in her bedroom. In each case, the abuse took place in the foster home.
The question the Court had to decide was whether the local authority should compensate the Claimant for the abuse which she suffered, even though the local authority had not of itself caused any harm to the Claimant.
The Claimant argued the local authority should compensate her for two legal reasons:-
In relation to a non-delegable duty the determining question the Court asked was whether the day-to-day foster care was undertaken by the local authority itself or whether it was simply arranged by the local authority, and was ultimately undertaken by the foster carers themselves. The Court decided that although the local authority was responsible for making and supervising foster care arrangements it outsourced the day to day care to the foster carers and therefore did not owe her a non-delegable duty of care.
The second aspect of vicarious liability was more promising for the Claimant. In this instance the court considered a previous judgement. Vicarious liability depends upon it being fair, just and reasonable to impose vicarious liability and depends upon the answers to two questions.
It was held that;
All of these aspects pointed toward the conclusion that the foster parents provided care to the child as an integral part of the local authority’s child care services and therefore the local authority should be held vicariously liable.
We have seen first-hand the damaging effects which sexual abuse can have on our clients and have been fighting to provide victims of abuse in homes and foster placements more routes to justice. Now the courts have finally recognised that these individuals need compensating and imposing vicarious liability on the local authority does just that.
If you have suffered abuse from foster carers whilst in a local authority placement and would like to speak to someone to discuss your options, get in touch for a free, no obligation chat with one our highly experienced solicitors in our personal injury department or contact Alistair Smith on 01642 247 656.
Currently there is no limitation on when you can bring a claim. Therefore claims may arise from many years ago.
The Armes v Nottinghamshire case means that if your carers do not have the means to pay compensation the Local Authority will be held vicariously liable to pay compensation to you.