The UK insurance industry has breathed a sigh of relief following the Supreme Court’s ruling that personal injury compensation claims cannot be brought against untraced drivers in road traffic accidents.
In the case of Cameron v Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd, the court held that where a driver cannot be identified as a result of either failing to stop or leaving the scene of a road traffic accident without exchanging details, the injured victim will not be entitled to claim against the unnamed defendant, and should instead seek to be compensated through the specialist Motor Insurers Bureau scheme.
The facts in Cameron
Following a road traffic collision with a vehicle driven by the claimant, Ms Cameron, the driver of the other vehicle left the scene of the accident without stopping or exchanging details. A witness noted the vehicle registration number and the registered keeper, Mr Hussain, was later identified.
Ms Cameron had suffered injuries as a result of the collision and incurred financial losses in the form of credit hire charges. She pursued a personal injury claim against the Mr Hussain and his insurance company, Liverpool Victoria.
It transpired the registered keeper was not the driver of the vehicle and Mr Hussain refused to disclose who had been driving the vehicle at the time of the accident (for which he was subsequently convicted).
Liverpool Victoria denied liability on the grounds the policy did not cover the registered keeper and the driver had not been identified.
The claim was defeated on the basis that the registered keeper had not been driving.
The claimant then applied to substitute the defendant from the registered keeper to “the person unknown driving vehicle registration number Y598 SPS who collided with vehicle registration number KG03 ZJZ on 26 May 2013”.
Following initial dismissals in the lower courts, the claim was eventually allowed by the Court of Appeal.
Liverpool Victoria then appealed to the Supreme Court, which allowed the appeal and then found in favour of the insurer.
Distinction was made between anonymous, unnamed defendants who could be identified such as ‘squatters’, and hit and run drivers, who “are not only anonymous but cannot be identified”.
The Supreme Court held it is not sufficient to identify an unknown person by reference to something they had done in the past, as it did not enable someone to know whether a particular person was the defendant.
An identifiable but anonymous person could be notified of the claim proceedings but where there was no reasonable prospect of the claim being brought to the attention of the unnamed, unidentifiable defendant, or of the service of the claim form being properly dispensed with, a claim could not be allowed.
The legal position
While Cameron has the effect of limiting the potential for personal injury victims to bring a claim against an unnamed driver, provision remains for personal injury victims to make an untraced driver claim to the Motor Insurers Bureau under the Untraced Drivers Agreement (UTDA), provided the eligibility requirements have been met.
Indeed, in this case, the lower courts had made reference to the victim pursuing alternative justice under the UTDA and the Supreme Court also questioned why Ms Cameron had pursued this course of action.
The Supreme Court decision has been welcomed by the insurance industry. Had the Court of Appeal’s position been upheld, insurers would have seen a substantial increase in costs exposure in untraced driver claims, with claimants permitted to claim against insurers directly.