Dennis v Norwegian Refugee Council Ruling Emphasizes Importance of Duty of Care
Companies, no matter their goals when sending employees to overseas locations, need to constantly be aware of their duty of care obligations. This isn't just good practice, but in many countries, a direct aspect of the law.
Travel risk assessments depend greatly on employee's positions globally, as well as reasons for travel and a wide spectrum of other related risks. However, there are very basic things that any company can do to ensure they are following the best possible practices: not only for the safety of those overseas, but to protect their interests both in property and legal standing.
No case ruling highlighted this quite as well as Dennis v Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). In particular, a report from the European Interagency Security Forum used this as a case study to highlight the risks and repercussions that the ruling against the NRC has caused. Steven Dennis (the plaintiff) was an employee at the NRC in 2012 when, during the course of a VIP visit to a Kenyan refugee camp, was kidnapped during an attack. Mr. Dennis was later freed during a rescue operation but eventually filed suit against the NRC for negligence in their duty of care obligations while he was overseas that directly led to his capture.
Dennis' main points of the suit were multi-fold and very important for future organizations to digest and understand (this was highlighted boldly in the EISF report). Among the many factors in the suit, he claimed the NRC failed to foresee the risks with his trip, failed to take precaution to shield him from such risks, and general negligence. The Oslo District court sided with Dennis on all claims against the NRC and ordered them to pay restitution on the order of 465,000 euros.
It's important to note in regards to the ruling, that all countries handle duty of care responsibilities differently: in the U.S., there is no direct legal obligation, while countries such as the U.K., Australia, and Norway all have very distinct laws dealing with failure in duty of care responsibilities.
No matter the municipal legality, however, the main lesson of the case was to highlight the importance of
travel risk assessments and clear, concise, organization-wide cultural significance to threat evaluation. The NRC, at the very minimum, needed to make duty of care a top priority, and, per the court, were insufficient in understanding the security situation on the ground. If the NRC had more thoroughly identified overseas travel risks, they may have spared Mr. Dennis the pain he went through, and it almost certainly would have protected the NRC in court. This type of risk identification procedure is at the heart of the NC4 Risk Center™: a multi-faceted communication tool for organizations with an overseas travel component. For more information on our travel risk assessment tools, e-mail us at
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