High Court Damages Ruling in Hit-and-Run Case

06 Jun 2007

The High Court has held that the United Kingdom’s arrangements for compensating the victims of untraced drivers do not comply with European Community law in requiring compensation claims made on behalf of minors to be brought within three years of injury.  The Court also found that the breach of EC law was sufficiently serious to expose the Secretary of State to a claim in damages.

The judgment arose out of a claim brought on behalf of Ben Byrne, who was injured by an untraced driver when he was three years old.  Later, his parents learnt of the possibility of claiming compensation, and made a claim to the Motor Insurers Bureau,which provides compensation to the victims of untraced drivers under the terms of an agreement with the Department of Transport.  But the MIB refused to process Ben’s application because of a rule in the agreement requiring all claims to be brought within three years of the injury.  This rule was harsher than the provisions of the Limitation Act governing claims against traced drivers; under the Limitation Act, the three year time limit only starts to run when a minor reaches 18.

In legal proceedings brought on Ben’s behalf against the MIB and the Secretary of State for Transport, the High Court found that this was contrary to the EC Directive governing claims by victims of untraced drivers because it did not protect claims by minors against the MIB as effectively as the Limitation Act rules applicable to actions in court by minors who are the victims of traced drivers.

The High Court rejected Ben’s claim against the MIB, holding that the MIB was not an emanation of the State and that the Directive was therefore not directly effective against it; and that the agreement between the MIB and the Secretary of State could not be construed so as to comply with the Directive.

However, the High Court held that the United Kingdom was in sufficiently serious breach of the Directive to expose it to a claim for damages under the principle laid down in the Francovich line of case-law.  Ben can therefore proceed with his claim against the Secretary of State for Transport, seeking damages for the loss he has suffered in being deprived of the possibility of obtaining compensation from the MIB.

Nicholas Paines QC and Josh Holmes represented Ben Byrne.

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