This is the latest round in the Court of Appeal in the battle over car hire (Singh v Yaqubi  EWCA Civ 23). The rear door of Mr Singh’s Roller was dented in a road traffic accident. The car took 54 days to repair and the hire bill claimed from the defendant was £92,953.90. Mr Singh was in partnership with Mr Thakrar in a property development business and the Rolls Royce was one of the fleet of seven vehicles owned by the partnership.
The judge dismissed the hire claim in its entirety. In doing so he admitted to anxious thoughts about ‘whether the ever increasing insurance premiums of the ordinary motorist, particularly one struggling to make ends meet and needing a modest car to go to work, should in some part be used so that the rich may continue at no expense to themselves to be filled with good things that they think they need.’ In response to Mr Singh’s case that he used the Rolls Royce ‘to maintain the correct impression’ in the circles in which he did business, the judge commented ‘well, what a testament that is to the superficial if not false nature of the warped values of society…’
The Court of Appeal discouraged such comments but concluded that the manner and openness of their expression encouraged a conclusion that the judge was well aware of his responsibility to decide the case on legal principles and in accordance with the evidence.
The Court also dismissed the remainder of the appeal concluding that the burden was on the claimant to show a reasonable need for a replacement Rolls during the period of repair. The required need was the need of the partnership and that need was not self-proving. If need is not proved then questions arising out of the reasonableness of measures in mitigation do not arise. That principle had not been weakened by cases following Giles v Thompson.
An important point to note is that the need was put in issue in the defence. It was for the claimant to establish it and if successful, the defendant would have had to show that it had not been met in a reasonable manner.
The Court commented that very large hire claims should be scrutinised very carefully. The judge was entitled to require specific evidence of need such as evidence of the actual use of the vehicle for business purposes before the accident and the use to which the hired vehicle was put during the period of hire.
This is a helpful case for defendants where a large hire claim is made on the basis that the vehicle is needed for business use. However the Court contrasted business use with a claim by a private motorist. The evidential threshold for the private motorist to establish reasonable need is much lower. The court cited Lord Foscote in Lagden: he said such a motorist may not be able to predict what particular use will be made during the period of hire; it may just be about convenience and not avoiding some financial loss he or she might otherwise have incurred. The battles continue….
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