For years the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) have relied and succeeded with the defence that “off road vehicles” are not covered by the scheme because the Road Traffic Act 1988 only requires vehicles to be insured if they are used “on a road or other public place”.

European law requires that any mechanically propelled vehicle used on land anywhere (except when running on rails and unless it is a rare case of a vehicle derogated from the requirement of insurance) must have insurance cover.

In the case of Damijan Vnuk v Zavarovalnica Trigalev (C-162/13) the Court of Justice of the European Union considered whether vehicles being used on private property may need to be insured. The facts were that Mr Vnuk, a farm worker, was knocked off a ladder in a farmyard by a trailer attached to a tractor which was reversing across the yard. Vnuk sued for compensation for the injuries he received from the driver of the tractor. Slovenia’s courts ruled against his claim because in their view the tractor was not being used for its main purpose, as a means of a transport. However, the European Court of Justice disagreed and said the requirement in the EU Motor Insurance Directive, were for vehicles to be insured for any use consistent with the normal function of that vehicle. This means the accident should have been covered by compulsory vehicle insurance.

As a result, the European court’s view is that motor insurance is now required to be in place for vehicles used in all situations – not just on roads. And “vehicle” in the words of the Directive, has a very wide meaning.

The ruling has raised fundamental questions of “what is a road” and also “what constitutes a vehicle”.

The implications for the MIB have recently been tried in the case of Lewis -v- Tinsdale & the Motor Insurers Bureau [http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2018/2376.html].

The background facts were that the claimant, Mr Lewis suffered serious injuries when walking on private land. He was struck by an uninsured 4 x 4 vehicle being driven by Mr Tindale.

The driver of the vehicle (Mr Tindale), the MIB and the Secretary of State were all named as defendants in proceedings. Mr Tindale’s full liability for the accident was not disputed.

The MIB argued that it had no liability to Mr Lewis pursuant to the Uninsured Driver’s Agreement 1999, because the accident was not caused by or arising out of the use of a vehicle on a road or other public place.

Mr Justice Soole rejected one submission made by the Claimant; that any judgment obtained in his favour against Mr Tindale was a liability required to be insured under Part VI of the Road Traffic Act). He noted S145 (3) of the act requires that a motor insurance policy must insure injury to a third party as a result of the use of a vehicle on a road or other public place. Mr Justice Soole found that interpreting section 145(3) to include the use of a vehicle on private land would be an amendment to the Act.

The Claimant’s alternative submission was that the Motor Insurance Directive gave him the right to be compensated for the accident irrespective of whether the vehicle was used on private land and that this European law was directly effective and could be enforced by the English courts. Mr Justice Soole accepted this submission and that the MIB is an emanation of the state for the purpose of insurance directives. It was liable to indemnify Mr Lewis at least to the minimum requisite cover of 1 million Euros.

The MIB haven been given permission to appeal. Clearly this is an important ruling which may potentially significantly extend the MIB’s liability. It remains to be seen whether the UK government will amend the Road Traffic Act legislation to make it complaint with the European Directive.