02 September 2015

Take Cover - Riding Accident Claims

Brenda Gilligan, senior solicitor and equine law specialist, looks at an interesting Slovenian case which helped an English rider's accident claim, and its far-reaching consequences.

A Slovenian case has helped an English rider, Ms Sarah Roberts, win compensation in an accident claim.

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 s143, compulsory third party liability for vehicles is limited to "motor" vehicles on "roads" or "other public places". Under s185 of the Road Traffic Act, a vehicle is defined as "a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on a road". Thus, vehicles being used solely on private land would not have needed insurance, unless they ventured onto public roads. The definition of "public road" was also open to question -did it cover bridleways for instance? It meant that someone injured in a collision with a quad bike on a private farm track may have been unable to claim compensation as there was no insurance to cover the vehicle owner -assuming it was their fault, of course.

The case of Vnuk-v-Trigalev (C-162/13), heard in the European Court of Justice in September 2013 changed that, in conjunction with Article 3(1) of the 1st Directive on Motor Insurance and the 6th Motor Insurance Directive 2009 (2009/102/EC). Now, because of this case and the Directives, any vehicle may need compulsory insurance if it:

  • is intended for travel on land and propelled by mechanical power;

  • is in any geographic location, including private property; and

  • is being used for any function consistent with the "normal function of that vehicle"

Mr Vnuk was injured when a trailer on a tractor hit a ladder in a barn where he was loading hay and he fell. At first his claim was not accepted as it was thought the employers’ insurance only covered the vehicle being used on public roads as transport, not as farm machinery. But the European Court thought differently and as a result, it appears that the scope of compulsory insurance for vehicles has been extended in terms of where the vehicle is being used and for what function.

Ms Roberts was injured when a motorbike came too close to her horse on a bridleway and spooked him. She fell and broke her ankle. Her claim was rejected by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, a public body which exists to provide compensation for those injured by uninsured or untraced drivers or bikers. They said the bike would not have needed insurance as it was not likely to be used on a road. It was also argued that a bridleway was not a "public place".

Referring to Vnuk, her solicitors successfully argued that the bike, which had L-plates displayed, was now covered by law as a vehicle needing insurance and that it was needed on any land, not just a "public place".

This case will have far-reaching consequences. The Road Traffic Act 1988 will probably have to be amended to reflect the Directives. Meanwhile, it is essential that owners of any sort of mechanised vehicle used anywhere check with their insurers whether they have suitable cover. Private assets could be at risk of being seized to pay compensation if not.

[This blog post first appeared as an article in the September 2015 edition of Lincolnshire Today magazine]

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