Injured by a vehicle on private property? New rules may apply

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Until recently, the prospects of an injured person recovering compensation as a result of injury caused by a vehicle varied according to whether the accident occurred on private property or land to which the public had access.

This was due to the nature of the compulsory insurance requirements. Now, cars driven solely on private property may need to be insured in future and all motor insurance policies amended following a recent decision by the European Court of Justice.

Case study: accident on private property

A Slovenian farm worker was knocked off a ladder by a reversing tractor and trailer whilst he was stacking bales of hay in a barn loft. The incident occurred in a farm yard on private property.

His claim against the driver’s motor insurers failed at first. When he appealed, the Slovenian Supreme Court referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

This action was taken to determine whether the duty to insure ‘the use of vehicles’ within the meaning of Article 3(1) of the First Directive on motor insurance actually covered the circumstances of the accident.

A number of member states intervened, including the UK, arguing that the compulsory insurance requirement should not apply.

However, the court ruled the Directive must be interpreted so that the concept of ‘use of vehicles’ covered any use of a vehicle that was consistent with the normal function of that vehicle. This might include the manoeuvre of a tractor in the farm courtyard in order to bring the trailer attached to that tractor into a barn.

The Court ruled that the accident circumstances were capable of falling within the scope of insurance cover required under the directives and referred the claimants case back to the Slovenian courts.

In light of this, the Road Traffic Act 1998 will need to be changed and the vehicle insurers will need to indemnify the negligent drivers. This may impact on the scope of the Uninsured and Untraced Drivers Agreements.

The court’s interpretation extended to any place which means all the past UK cases that differentiate between private property and land to which the public have access are out of date.

Commonly a Claimant will have other routes to compensation in a similar case but this case corrects the unfair anomally that prevented a Claimant recovering from the motor insurer simply because the accident occurred on private property.

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