Vicarious Liability in Zimbabwe and South Africa: A Review of Some Court Cases

Introduction

Vicarious liability is a legal concept that holds an employer or principal liable for the wrongful acts committed by its employees or agents in the course of their employment. This doctrine has been applied in various court cases in Zimbabwe and South Africa, with differing outcomes. This article provides an overview of the legal framework and court decisions on vicarious liability in these countries.

Legal Framework

In Zimbabwe, the law of vicarious liability is based on the common law, which imposes liability on an employer for the wrongful acts of its employees committed within the scope of their employment. The test for determining whether an employee’s conduct falls within the scope of employment is whether it is sufficiently connected to the employee’s duties or whether it is a “frolic of his own.”

In South Africa, the law of vicarious liability is also based on the common law. However, the Constitutional Court has held that vicarious liability can also arise from statutory duties, such as those imposed by the Employment Equity Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Court Cases

In Zimbabwe, the case of S v Chidziva established that an employer can be held liable for the sexual harassment of an employee by a fellow employee if the employer knew or ought to have known about the harassment and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it. In this case, the employer was held liable for damages suffered by the victim.

In another case, Muzenda v Attorney-General, the Supreme Court held that an employer can be held liable for the negligent driving of its employee, even if the employee was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident. The court held that the employer had a duty to ensure that its employees were competent and qualified to operate its vehicles.

In South Africa, the case of K v Minister of Safety and Security established that a police officer who committed rape while on duty could be held liable for damages, and the Minister of Safety and Security could also be held vicariously liable for the officer’s actions. The court held that the officer’s conduct was sufficiently connected to his duties as a police officer, and that the Minister had failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the officer from committing the offence.

In another case, Ngubane v South African Broadcasting Corporation, the Constitutional Court held that an employer can be held vicariously liable for the discriminatory conduct of its employees, even if the employer did not expressly authorise or condone such conduct. The court held that the employer had a duty to take positive measures to prevent discrimination in the workplace.

Conclusion

Vicarious liability is an important legal concept that holds employers accountable for the actions of their employees. In Zimbabwe and South Africa, courts have applied this doctrine in various cases involving wrongful acts committed by employees. The outcomes of these cases have varied, depending on the specific facts and circumstances. However, they provide useful guidance on the legal framework and principles governing vicarious liability in these countries. Employers should be aware of their potential liability for the actions of their employees and take reasonable steps to prevent wrongful conduct in the workplace.

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