Section 145(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 imposes a legal obligation on motor insurers to cover their insured for any liability incurred for death, bodily injury to any person or damage to property arising out of the use of the insured vehicle on the road. So what happens if death or bodily injury occurs without any actual contact with the vehicle insured?

In the recent, unreported case of Christopher Wastell v The Estate of Gordon John Woodward, Deceased (1) and Chaucer Syndicates Ltd (summarised on Lawtel on 16 March 2017), the High Court was asked to determine as preliminary issue whether the second defendant motor insurers were liable to compensate the claimant for the serious injuries he sustained when his motorcycle collided with the first defendant.

The facts of this case are rather unusual but nonetheless led the court to explore interesting arguments about what constitutes “the use of a vehicle on the road” in order for motor insurers to become statutorily liable to meet claims under section145(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

The first defendant had, unknown to the second defendant, been operating a business selling hamburgers from a hamburger van. On the day in question, he had parked his van on a lay-by and was in the process of crossing back after placing a sign for his business on the other side when he collided with the claimant motorcyclist. Sadly the impact was such that the first defendant died instantly and the claimant sustained severe injuries for which he sought compensation from the second defendant.

It transpired that the first defendant had no public liability insurance or a financially viable estate. However, his partner had a motor insurance policy for the van with the second defendant under which the first defendant was a named driver. Whilst the second defendant had no knowledge of the first defendant’s business and the actual policy had not covered the van for business, it would become responsible if the claimant could prove the accident had arisen from “the use of the van on the road.”

Finding for the claimant and following the case of Dunthorne v Bentley [1996] R T R 426, the court accepted that this was a finely balanced case and whilst the van in question was not involved in the collision, the first defendant’s conduct of putting out the sign, adjusting it and returning back to the van had been so closely connected to the business that the accident had “arisen” from that use of the van on the road so as to make the second defendant liable. It mattered not that there had been a breach of the contract of insurance between the second defendant and its policy holder.

As this case demonstrates the scope of motor insurers liability under section145(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 can be wider than it appears.