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Uninsured Drivers Claims: Public Roads and Private Lands

The case of the Motor Insurer’s Bureau v Lewis (2019) heard by the Supreme Court last month, involved a motor vehicle accident that occurred on private land. Mr Lewis was injured by Mr Tindale who collided with him in an uninsured vehicle when Mr Lewis was walking in one on Mr Tindale’s private fields.

As a result Mr Lewis suffered serious injuries and was left a tetraplegic with permanent brain damage. Mr Tinsdale was not able to meet the claim for damages presented by Mr Lewis and the claim proceeded via the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) under their uninsured scheme and proceedings were subsequently issued.

MIB and The Courts

The MIB is a government agency funded by the insurance industry. It allows drivers to make personal injury claims for road traffic accidents (RTA’s) where a third party is uninsured, untraced or where a foreign vehicle is involved. The MIB has various agreements in place to deal with a claim dependant on the type being made. One such agreement is the Uninsured Driver’s Agreement 1999.

It was this agreement and the Road Traffic Act 1988 that the MIB was relying on so that it did not have to compensate Mr Lewis. They said they “did not dispute that Mr Tindale was liable for the accident but contended that it had no contingent liability to the Claimant pursuant to the Uninsured Driver’s Agreement (“UDA”) 1999. This was because “the accident and injuries were not caused or arising out of the use of the vehicle on a road or other public place under section 145 of the Road Traffic Act 1988”. The distinction between RTA accidents caused on public roads or places rather than on private land was therefore the basis of the MIB’s argument in not dealing with Mr Lewis’s claim.

The Court system in the UK has different types of Court where cases can be heard depending on their size and complexity. The High Court of Justice, along with the Court of Appeal and Crown Court are the senior courts in England and Wales. The Supreme Court is the final Court of Appeal in the UK for civil and criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The case of The Motor Insurers Bureau v Lewis originated in the High Court. The Court ruled in favour of Mr Lewis that the MIB was liable to indemnify a Claimant in regard of an injury where they were struck by an uninsured vehicle on private land. The MIB appealed the decision and the case went to the Court of Appeal in June 2019 although they had also requested that it should be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Directives and Articles

When cases are heard at Court different types of legislation are used to help resolve them such as a statute which is a written law. Directives and their clauses (which are known as Articles) are a European Union (EU) legal act which sets out a specific objective for the member state to achieve although it is down to the actual states themselves to do this the best way they can. A Directive is defined as “a legislative act that sets out a goal that all EU countries must achieve”. An Article is defined as “a clause or section in a written document such as a treaty, contract or statute”.

The High Court had reached its verdict that the MIB was liable for accidents on private land pursuant to an EU Directive. The Court of Appeal when reaching its decision had cited Article 3 of the Sixth European Union (EU) Motor Insurance Directive. Article 3 deals with the compulsory insurance of vehicles and where “each member state, subject to Article 5, take all appropriate measures to ensure that civil liability in respect of the use of vehicles normally based in its territory is covered by insurance”. It also cited Article 10 which deals with the body responsible for compensation and states that:

  • “Each member state shall set up or authorise a body with the task of providing compensation, at least up to the limits of the insurance obligation for damage to personal injuries caused by an unidentified vehicle or a vehicle for which the obligation provided for in Article 3 has not been satisfied”

As a result the Court of Appeal stated that Articles 3 and 10 could be relied upon by Claimants as having direct effect against the MIB as an emanation of the state and upheld the High Court’s original decision.

Further Appeal and Brexit

Finally, after a further appeal by the MIB the case was heard in the Supreme Court in February 2020. The MIB argued that Article 3 “required member states to impose a compulsory insurance regime on the use of vehicles which included their use on private land” and that “this is not unconditional and lacks direct effect”. The MIB also said that other member states have a degree of discretion in regard of how compulsory compensation works.

It also said that in relation to Article 10 in regard of member states making provision for an organisation that provides compensation for claims involving uninsured vehicles that this had not been completely set up in the UK. They also said that as far as compensating Claimants who were the subject of claims resulting from accidents involving uninsured vehicles on private land it could not be liable in this context and that they were only responsible to provide compensation to “victims of uninsured vehicles within the limits of the Road Traffic Act 1988”, which was therefore in respect of accidents on roads or in public places.

The Supreme Court upheld the previous rulings and the MIB’s appeal was dismissed. The Court stated they would not allow the MIB to appeal the earlier rulings or request a further decision from the CJEU. The Court also made the point that the “CJEU had repeatedly made clear that the Motor Insurance Directives were designed to ensure the protection of victims of motor accidents”.

It should be noted at the present time, although Britain is in the process of leaving the EU, EU law still has precedence over UK domestic law. This is by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972 that defines the legal set up between the EU and the UK. Section 2 of the Act “made provision for EU legislation to become law in the UK in two ways”:

  • “Some EU legislation was directly applicable to the UK. This meant that it applied automatically to UK Law without any action required by the UK”
  • “Other EU legislation required domestic implementing legislation before it became national law”

The Withdraw Agreement between the EU and the UK states the details of the UK’s arrangements in regard of leaving the EU. Part four of the agreement is in regard of a transition or implementation period during which time EU law still continues to apply in the UK. As such, some of the measures used to obtain the result in MIB v Lewis are the result of EU legislation and therefore binding in the case as it is still within the scope and period of the Withdraw Agreement.

It does, however, remain to be seen how uninsured driver claims will progress in the future once the UK has left the EU. The MIB will no doubt have to bear a huge financial burden in dealing with these claims further to the result in MIB v Lewis in addition to the claims they already deal with. The cost may well end up being passed to vehicle owners through increased insurance premiums which runs counter to the current whiplash reforms from the government in attempting to bring motor insurance premiums down.

Posted on Mar 11th, 2020 by Lyons Davidson

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