Bent v Highways and Utilities Construction Ltd  09.02.11

In February 2007 Sunderland player, Darren Bent, had an accident in his Mercedes V12 6.3, £72,000 sports car. Liability was admitted. Mr Bent hired an Aston Martin DB9 worth about £105,000 from Accident Exchange. He claimed hire costs for a period of 94 days at £573.28 plus VAT per day, representing a total hire claim in excess of £63,000. At first instance, the Judge held that evidence of the spot hire rate for the following year, 2008, for various different cars, was not relevant as it was for the wrong time period. However, on appeal the Court of Appeal remitted the case for a retrial, on the basis that working with comparables and making adjustments is the daily diet of judges concerned with valuation in all sorts of fields. The retrial was limited to the determination of the spot hire rate of a reasonably equivalent replacement vehicle at the time of hire.

Held

Her Honour Judge Plumstead held that it was reasonable to expect Mr Bent to have assumed after his accident he was going to need to hire a vehicle initially for 28 days, with the possibility of extending, and therefore take advantage of a discounted price. It was therefore appropriate to look at local spot rates on the basis of 28 day periods of hire (with associated discounts) rather than, say, seven day periods of hire with far lower discounts and higher notional rates (an argument advanced by Accident Exchange). In terms of hire rates evidence, the Judge had limited data for 2007, a broad range for 2009 and evidence that in 2010 rates published on the internet are not definitive. The Judge did not accept that hire rates had fallen from 2008 due to the recession. Overall, taking a baseline figure of £450 plus VAT per day, and applying a discount on the basis that hire could have been over 28 day periods (rather than in seven day periods or less) the Judge assessed a reasonable daily rate at £396 plus VAT. In effect, this reduced the original credit hire claim by over £20,000.

Comment

In cases where the vehicle in question was not run of the mill, the courts will make an assessment on the basis of the evidence available: as Lord Justice Jacob commented in the Court of Appeal, “One must not be hypnotised by any supposed need to find an exact spot rate for an almost exactly comparable car.” For lower value credit hire claims, internet spot rates evidence will carry some weight.

Where a claimant hirer is pecunious, this case supports the notion that the hirer should reasonably have been required to shop around for local spot rates of hire. Notwithstanding the use of a credit hire vehicle, such a claimant will only be entitled to recover hire at a rate that is equivalent to middle-bracket local market hire rates.

In addition, where it would have been reasonable for the claimant hirer to assume his vehicle would be in the repair shop for some time (not merely around a week), it would be reasonable for both parties to adduce hire rates evidence on the basis of repeated 28 day periods of hire.