The Legal Responsibility for a Servant Exceeding His Duty - Or Acting as Her Master's Agent

A master is not responsible for the acts of a servant who is exceeding the bounds of his authority; but whether the servant was or was not acting within the scope of his authority is often a very nice question. Servant Exceeding His Authority

Where a domestic Whose duty it was to light the fire, attempted to clean the chimney by making a huge bonfire of furze and straw, with the result that the house next door was burnt down, her master was held not liable for the damage done to the adjoining premises, on the ground that the servant had acted quite outside the scope of her employment. An attempt to recover damages from a railway company for the loss of luggage by a porter in whose charge it had been placed for an hour, failed, because it is not a porter's duty to guard a passenger's luggage for such a length of time. If, however, the passenger had placed the luggage in charge of the porter while he Went to take his ticket or to be placed on a cab, and it had been lost, the company would have been responsible. A servant is acting outside the scope of his authority if he do an unlawful act not authorised by his master.

Where a stationmaster wrongfully arrested a passenger for not having taken a ticket, the railway company successfully defended an action against themselves for false imprisonment. On the other hand, a season-ticket holder recovered damages against a railway company for false imprisonment for having been wrongfully given into custody by one of their ticket examiners.

Servant Acting Illegally

A master is not responsible if the servant acts illegally in doing what could be done in a lawful manner, as by committing an assault when attempting to recover property, nor is the person employing a contractor responsible for the acts of his servants, unless he personally interferes with the work by giving them directions, nor a master for the wrongful acts of his servant whom he has lent to another person, such acts being committed while in the service of that person. Servant as Agent

A servant acting as a mere agent for his master has no authority to bind him by his contracts; but his authority may be express or implied. When the servant is acting by express authority under writing, little or no difficulty arises as to the master's liability; but when the authority is only implied the extent of the master's liability is often open to doubt.

If a mistress, as it frequently happens, sends a servant to buy goods for her and at the same time gives the servant money to pay for them, the tradespeople will be unable to recover from the mistress the price of the goods supplied to the servant if the latter, instead of paying cash, puts the money into her pocket and obtains the goods on credit.

But, on the other hand, if a master or a mistress who is accustomed to deal with certain tradespeople, allows or instructs the servant to order goods on account, the tradespeople will have a right to suppose that the servant is acting on behalf of her master or mistress, even though she continues to order goods after she has left her situation. In such a case the employers can only escape liability by giving notice to the tradespeople that the servant is no longer in their service, or no longer has the right to order goods on their behalf. If a servant is sent to order goods on credit and is subsequently given the money to pay for them, even if it is upon the same day, the presumption of implied authority will still arise, and the employer will still remain liable if the servant neglects to pay for them. Nor does any private agreement between master and servant diminish the master's liability. Thus if the servant buys things which come to the master's use the latter should take care to see that they are paid for.

Searching Servants' Boxes

A master has no right to open his servant's boxes or to search his property. If he suspects his servant of theft or dishonesty and of concealing stolen articles in his boxes he should apply to a magistrate for a search warrant, and make the search in the presence of a constable.


It is quite a fallacy to suppose that there is any presumption of law that a servant is entitled to perquisites or leavings; to take, sell, or give away the food that is over in any substantial quantity without the leave of the master is just as much theft as any other form of robbery.