The Supreme Court has confirmed that insurers can be liable for accidents on private land even where the driver is not covered – but the long-running issue may not be over yet.

Supreme Court judges Lord Reed, Lady Arden and Lord Hamblen this week refused 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 sustained by a pedestrian who was struck by an uninsured vehicle on private land. Judges, who said the appeal did not raise an arguable point of law, also opted not to refer the case for any ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

The injured person, 73-year-old Michael Lewis, was on foot when he was chased across private land by the land owner, who was driving a 4x4 Nissan Terrano. The incident left him a tetraplegic and in need of permanent ongoing care. As the driver was uninsured, the MIB acted as the defendant.

Giving judgment in the Court of Appeal last year in Motor Insurers’ Bureau v Lewis, Lord Justice Flaux said 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'.

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

David Gauler, the lawyer at Thompsons Solicitors who represented Lewis, said: ‘The Supreme Court has finally put an end to the MiB’s relentless efforts to avoid paying out compensation to our client.

‘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.’

Some lawyers have suggested the MIB may seek legislative change having been foiled by the court, while still making provision based on the judges’ decision. 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 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.'


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