The facts of the case
A road traffic accident on 9 June 2016 saw the plaintiff claim for credit hire charges for a vehicle supplied by Crash Services from 13 June 2016 until 30 June 2016. The plaintiff’s MOT certificate had expired on 5 February 2016 and he was, therefore, using a vehicle without a valid certificate for four months at the time of the accident.
Although the defendant accepted liability, BLM relied upon the doctrine of ex turpi causa non oritor damnum (the plaintiff is unable to pursue legal remedy, if it arises from his own illegal act) and challenged the plaintiff’s entitlement to recover damages for either hire of an alternative vehicle or for loss of use of his own vehicle due to his failure to have a valid MOT Test Certificate at the time of the accident.
On 17 August 2017 the County Court judge made a Decree in favour of the plaintiff in the sum of £2,250.40 damages. We appealed the decision and Judge Burgess delivered his judgment on 31 January 2018.
It was argued that as a result of the plaintiff’s failure to have a valid MOT test certificate, his insurance policy did not cover claims arising from an accident. Additionally, the storage charges claimed on the basis that no contract had been provided, establishing the terms of the storage provision with Curries Accident Repair Centre, were also disputed.
Judge Burgess accepted that the offences in this particular case were not at the “most serious end of the legal calendar, nevertheless they are not insignificant offences.” Whilst considering the evidence provided by the plaintiff, Judge Burgess indicated that the plaintiff did not dispute that had the incident not occurred, he would driven the car, probably until his insurance came up for renewal in August 2016. This is after the period of time for which he seeks to compensate for the hire of an alternative vehicle. Judge Burgess concluded that the plaintiff was not entitled to recovery costs under this head of damages, and to that extent granted the appeal.
In relation to the storage charges for the car, the plaintiff gave evidence that he did not wish to leave his car parked on the highway in that condition for what could be a long period of time. The car was stored whilst assessments were being undertaken regarding the extent of the damage sustained to the vehicle and Judge Burgess accepted that this was a reasonable decision. That then left the question of what is a reasonable charge per day for such storage. This issue was also raised at the lower court, allowing for any agreement with Curry’s Car Repair to be produced but no evidence was given as to the basis of the daily rate. It was suggested that it was a matter for the defendant to show that it was unreasonable but Judge Burgess rejected this argument stating that, “the ordinary approach of a party proving the liability, and the quantum of any such loss of the plaintiff pertains”, concluding that the claim for storage was also refused.
What this means for you
This judgment will be of assistance in future cases which raise issues of illegality. The previous case law in Northern Ireland on illegality has been ambiguous but this recent judgment will set a precedent in respect of special damages cases where offences have been committed such as driving without insurance and driving without a valid MOT Certificate. As Judge Burgess has highlighted “These are not insignificant offences” and where the plaintiff has committed these offences the claim for damages ought to be challenged.
This was an excellent outcome and could give rise to potentially challenging hire claims and storage charges in future cases of illegality. The judgment also reiterates the underlying principle that a plaintiff must prove his loss and challenges should continue to be made in cases where the loss has not been adequately vouched.