Reversing the first instance decision, the High Court has found a defendant must pay credit hire charges even where the credit hire company assured the claimant she would not be pursued for the charges.
The Claimant’s vehicle was written off after an accident caused by the Defendant. Liability was not disputed. The damaged vehicle was worth £775.
The Claimant hired a replacement vehicle. Due to a delay on the part of the Defendant's insurer, the hire charges exceeded £20,000 when the cheque for the pre-accident value of the vehicle arrived.
The hire agreement effectively delayed payment of the charges until the claim was concluded, yet made clear that the Claimant remained personally liable to pay off the debt regardless of the outcome of the claim. However the Claimant was advised orally her liability to pay the charges was contingent on the claim being successful.
The Defendant elected not to challenge the rates claimed and the matter proceeded to Trial. During cross-examination, the Claimant revealed she had been advised she would not be expected to pay the credit charges.
HHJ Saffman found that in the absence of an obligation to pay the charges, the credit hire claim failed. The Claimant appealed.
Mr Justice Turner considered whether a claimant recover credit hire charges against a defendant even when she has been assured by the credit hire company that she only had a contingent liability on the claim being successful. He noted that this was the issue was relevant to other ongoing cases.
Referring to the judgment in Giles v Thompson, he found that the case law did not require there to be a personal obligation to repay the costs, in order to result in a recovery.
Giles stated that a defendant was not exempted from liability if the claimant’s liability to pay charges to an independent third party was contingent on making a successful recovery against the defendant.
In light of this reasoning Mr Justice Turner found that HHJ Saffman was wrong to reach the decision that any assurances by the credit hire company "were such as to compromise her claim for credit hire charges against the defendant."
Accordingly the Claimant's appeal was granted.
What can we learn?
- The decision provides specific judicial endorsement of circumstances which commonly occurin the world of credit hire, albeit the Claimant in this instance clearly conveyed to the Court what she had been told by the credit hire company and the case was decided on that basis
- The case can therefore be distinguished from those where the claimant is not assured of a contingent liability to pay the hire charges only if they are successful in their case
- In cases where a claimant is given assurances they will have no personal liability to pay the charges under any circumstances, defendants will still be able to argue that credit hire agreements are unenforceable due to fraudulent misrepresentation