Employers are not always responsible for criminal acts by their employees, which is good news for insurers, said lawyers.

A recent judgment has narrowed the interpretation of the landmark House of Lords case Lister v Hesley Hall, according to Davies Lavery partner Tracy Head.

She said in Lister the defendant, who owned a children's boarding house, was held liable when a care employee sexually abused a resident.

"The decision caused concern in the insurance industry that vicarious liability had been extended," Head said.

However, Head said last week's judgment in Mattis v Pollock, had clarified the situation for non-sexual assaults.

Cranston was involved in an altercation at Pollock's nightclub. Cranston ran away, chased by a group of people. At some stage he armed himself with a knife, stabbing Mattis in the back about 100 yards from the club.

Mattis, left paraplegic by the attack, sought to prove that Pollock, the nightclub owner, was negligent in employing Cranston and that the assault was foreseeable.

But this would have given the decision in Lister its widest possible interpretation. Instead, the judge found there was not a sufficiently close connection between the employment of Cranston and the attack.

Head said the new judgment took the "commonsense approach".

"Lister doesn't mean that all criminal acts undertaken by employees will automatically result in the employer being found liable," she said.