ECJ rules on the meaning of the “use of a vehicle” in relation to compulsory motor insurance

The claimant was injured when his ladder was struck by a tractor to which a trailer was attached.  At the time of the accident, the tractor had been manoeuvring in the courtyard of a farm (in order  to bring the trailer  into a barn). The claimant sought compensation for his non-pecuniary damage  against the insurer with which the tractor owner had taken out compulsory motor insurance. The issue in dispute in this case was whether the compulsory insurance covered damage  caused by  the use of the tractor in these circumstances. This in turn depended on the  interpretation of Article 3(1) of Council Directive 72/166/EEC which provides that compulsory motor  insurance is required to cover civil liability in respect of “the use of vehicles” which are  normally based in the territory of a Member State. The insurer argued that compulsory insurance did not therefore  cover damage caused when a tractor was being used as a machine or propulsion device.

The European Court of Justice has now rejected the insurer’s argument. It held that Article 3(1)  must be interpreted as meaning that the concept of the “use of vehicles” covers any use of a  vehicle that is consistent with the normal function of that vehicle. It reached that decision after  taking into account the general scheme and purpose of the European Union legislation concerning  compulsory motor insurance.