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Supreme Court ruling could lead to more claims against councils

Last week’s Supreme Court decision over foster child abuse in Nottinghamshire could have implications for councils across the country.

The court found that the council was “vicariously liable” and will be ordered to pay damages for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by a woman while she was in foster care.

Initial claims against the authority had been dismissed by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal but the victim, Natasha Armes, took the case to the UK’s highest domestic judiciary body.

The Law Society, which represents British solicitors, said the decision will set a precedent of liability for councils involved in similar cases across the country.

“This is a significant ruling that could potentially result in an increase in the number of claims pursued against local authorities,” explained a spokesperson.

“While these cases by their very nature are complicated, local authorities will be alarmed at the implications of the imposition of vicarious liability for the abuse by the foster parents in the absence of any finding of negligence.

“Local authorities will be considering what steps they can take to prevent anything similar happening in their foster care placements, which will require redirection of resources.”

Although the Supreme Court was clear that the council was not at fault for the abuses, it reaffirmed that ‘vicarious liability’ was relevant. The principle is similar to that applied in cases where a company is found liable for the actions of its employees.

Due to Nottinghamshire County Council retaining a number of responsibilities over the children and working closely with the foster family, judges found that they were in fact undertaking an activity on behalf of the council, which made it responsible in this case.

The court also judged that Nottinghamshire was more capable of paying damages than the individual foster family, which is another aspect of this type of liability.

Top image: UK Supreme Court

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