Vnuk v Zavarovalnica Triglav [04.09.14]

In a case involving the use of a tractor in the courtyard of a farm, European Court of Justice (ECJ) decides that compulsory motor insurance should cover an accident which is consistent with the normal function of a vehicle.

Implications

For our comment on the implications of this decision, view our article: Scope of compulsory motor insurance: a loaded gun.

Background

On 13 August 2007, Mr Vnuk was working on a ladder in the courtyard of a farm when the ladder was struck by a tractor towing a trailer. The tractor was reversing into a barn in order to deliver bales of hay.

Mr Vnuk bought proceedings for compensation in the Slovenian courts, against the motor insurer for the tractor. He argued that ‘use of a vehicle’ could not be restricted to road use. The insurer argued that, under Slovenian law, the motor insurance cover was restricted to use of a vehicle on public roads and that the tractor was being used as a machine at the time, rather than a mode of transport.

There being no definition of ‘use of vehicles’ in Slovenian law, the Supreme Court referred the issue to the ECJ to consider whether Article 3(1) of the First Directive was to be interpreted as meaning that the concept of ‘use of vehicles’ covered the circumstances of the accident.

Decision

The European Court of Justice held:

  • The Directives do not specify what may be regarded as the ‘use’ of a motor vehicle. The concept of vehicle is defined in Article 1(1) of the First Directive as “any motor vehicle intended for travel on land and propelled by mechanical power, but not running on rails, and any trailer, whether or not coupled”. That definition is unconnected with the use which is made or may be made of the vehicle in question.
  • The fact that a tractor, possibly with a trailer attached, may, in certain circumstances, be used as an agricultural machine has no effect on the finding that such a vehicle corresponds to the concept of ‘vehicle’ in Article 1(1).
  • The concept of ‘use of vehicles’ in Article 3(1) covers any use of a vehicle that is consistent with the normal function of that vehicle. That concept may therefore cover the manoeuvre of a tractor in the courtyard of a farm in order to bring the trailer attached to that tractor into a barn.
  • The European Union legislature cannot have intended to exclude from the protection granted by the Directives injured parties to an accident caused by a vehicle in the course of its use, if that use is consistent with the normal function of that vehicle.