Negligence of Employer in UK Law
Salsbury v Woodland
It is, of course, trite law that an employer who employs an independent contractor is not vicariously responsible for the negligence of that contractor. He is not able to control the way in which the independent contractor does the work and the vicarious obligation of a master for the negligence of his servant does not arise under the relationship of employer and independent contractor.
There, are few operations entrusted to an agent which are not capable, if due precautions are not observed, of being sources of danger and mischief to others; and if the principal was responsible for this reason alone, the distinction between servants and independent contractors would be practically eliminated from the law" I am satisfied that that statement is supported by authority and I adopt it for the purposes of this judgment.
In accordance with principle, an employer subject to such a direct and personal duty cannot excuse himself if things go wrong merely because the direct cause of the injury was the act of the independent contractor.
The second exception is a special one - that of work on the highway. There, liability for independent contractors arises because those who have statutory authority to dig up a highway themselves owe a duty to the public using that highway, and the fact that they have a statutory authority to excavate does not absolve them from that duty even though they employ an independent contractor to do the work.
They include anotherwhere the dangers are created by work done upon a public highway, whether by a public authority or others; and this is a category discussed under that precise and limited heading in Salmond on Torts, 14th Edition, at page 691. It is there treated as being a separate and narrow category, and rightly so to my mind - on the assumption, of course, that the phrase "upon a highway" or "in a highway" includes the air space above it and the ground below it.
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