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Liability Issue in France For English Motorist’s Claim Against Uninsured Driver

Cars on a motorway in France
16th December 2015

A British motorist and his passenger who were struck by an uninsured driver at a roadside in France, and sought compensation under Motor Insurers' Bureau law, are told their claim may be subject to a French “no liability” scheme instead. Separate judgements were recently handed down to the surviving driver and the wife of his passenger who was fatally hit by the French motorist who had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Both the English motorist and his passenger had parked up on the hard shoulder and were standing alongside their vehicle wearing hi-vis vests while a wheel was being changed by a breakdown/recovery driver. A warning triangle and additional warning cones supplied by the recovery driver were in place to alert passing motorists, and hazard warning lights were flashing on both the car and the recovery vehicle.

Suddenly, a car swerved off the highway and ploughed into the stationary vehicle and the two men, causing serious injuries to the English car owner while his passenger was fatally crushed. The vehicle was driven by an uninsured French female who had dozed off at the wheel.

Both the English car driver and the wife of the passenger who lost his life found that their claim for compensation from the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB), which is required under article 13 of the Motor Vehicles (Compulsory Insurance) Regulations 2003, was not straightforward.

Unable to establish potential liability

The MIB denied liability to compensate the deceased passenger’s widow on the basis that she was unable to establish that the French equivalent of the MIB, i.e. the French Guarantee Fund, had a potential liability to provide compensation, which is a necessary condition of the MIB’s own liability. The MIB further argued that, as a result of the French “no-fault liability” scheme and the “involvement” in the accident of other insured vehicles (the English vehicle and recovery truck), the French scheme had no liability.

The High court judge ruled that, under the regulations, the widow’s claim should be heard according to French law, due to the clearly “closer connection” to the accident and other factors, such as the identity of the driver of the uninsured vehicle. The French scheme means that any vehicles impacted and causing damage in the accident are held to be ‘involved’, unless it could be shown that the vehicles had no role in the damage. The insurers of the English car and the recovery truck could not show this and thus liability was established against them in favour of the deceased man’s wife.

However, the MIB’s liability under the 2003 Regulations did not extend to claimants who had suffered damage caused by uninsured drivers in another EU member state, in circumstances where the local guarantee fund operating in that state would not be liable. The recovery truck was held not to be ‘involved’ in the damage, and was able to recover against the MIB.