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UKTuesday 03 March 2020

UK Supreme Court finds that insurers are liable for injuries on private land.

The UK’s Supreme Court has confirmed that insurers can be liable for accidents that take place on private land, even in cases where the driver is not covered. However, given the major repercussions of this decision to the insurance industry and the possibility of post-Brexit legal changes, it remains a contentious issue that we may not have heard the last of.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United Kingdom. The judges, known as justices, have the final say on the biggest legal issues. They are the ultimate check and balance on the UK's laws and constitution.

Three Supreme Court justices - Lord Reed, Lady Arden and Lord Hamblen - rejected an application from the Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB) for permission to appeal against a finding that it was directly liable under EU directives for injuries suffered by a pedestrian by an uninsured vehicle on private land. They found that the appeal did not raise an arguable point of law and also decided not to refer the case for ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

In the Motor Insurers Bureau v Lewis judgment, the Court of Appeal found that the suggested distinction between the use of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place and the use of a motor vehicle on private land was a ‘wholly artificial one'.

Seventy-three-year-old Michael Lewis had been on foot when he was pursued across private land by a landowner driving a 4x4 Nissan Terrano. The incident left him as a tetraplegic patient and in need of permanent care. As the driver of the Terrano was uninsured, the MIB acted as the defendant.

In their final attempt to overturn the High Court and Court of Appeal rulings, the MIB turned to the Supreme Court, arguing that relevant EU directives were not ‘unconditional’ and therefore could be used with discretion by EU member states. It also requested for the ruling to be referred to the CJEU. 

‘The Supreme Court has finally put an end to the MIB’s relentless efforts to avoid paying out compensation to our client,’ said David Gauler, representing Mr Lewis for Thompsons Solicitors. ‘It is now confirmed by the highest court in the land that the MIB cannot exclude victims from compensation if they are injured by an uninsured or untraced driver on private land. Whether this will remain the law after the end of the Brexit transition period - currently set for 1 January 2021 – given its reliance on EU directives remains to be seen.’

According to some legal experts, the MIB will make provision based on the UK Supreme Court’s judgement but might still seek legislative change. Mark Hemsted, member of the Forum of Insurance Lawyers and partner at Clyde & Co, said, 'This decision reiterates the extension of the obligations of the MIB beyond those within the Road Traffic Act (RTA) and within its own articles of association.’

'The MIB may now seek to challenge the government into amending the Road Traffic Act. In the continued absence of any indication that the government intends on amending the RTA, it would be unsurprising if the MIB does not make efforts to amend its articles to reflect the changes brought about this decision.'

A case of ‘watch this space’.

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