Railways vicariously liable for the negligence of its employees within the scope of employment

Supreme Court of Sri Lanka: The Supreme Court affirmed the High Court’s award of Rs. 3,500,000/- as damages to the plaintiff in a case of accident caused due to the negligence of gatekeepers appointed by the Sri Lankan Government.

The plaintiff is the wife of the deceased who was killed in an accident while he was driving his car through a level crossing. An unscheduled train passed through the crossing at the time which hit the plaintiff’s car, fatally injuring him. The fact being argued upon was whether leaving the gates of the level crossing by the gatekeepers amounted to negligence.

The Court affirmed with the judgment of the High Court and the District Court that it was the all important duty of the gatekeepers to shut the gates of the crossing before the arrival of the train. Failure to do so amounted to negligence on the part of the gatekeepers. Any person, who sees that the gates are open, can rightfully assume that there are no trains arriving at that time and hence he can safely cross. This is exactly what happened with the deceased and hence there was no contributory negligence on his part. Since the defendants were employed as gatekeepers by Sri Lankan Railways and the negligence was within the scope of employment, therefore Sri Lankan Railways shall also be made vicariously liable. The liability of the Sri Lankan Railways also arises out of the fact that they never informed the gatekeeper defendants about the arrival of an unscheduled train. The appeal was dismissed on these grounds. [Bhadra De Silva Rajakaruna v. General Manager of Railways, SC Appeal No. 62/2013, decided on 01.08.2017]

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