Case: Lewington v The Motor Insurers’ Bureau  EWHC 2848 (Comm)
By Hennah Abbas – Student Lawyer
Be it a tractor knocking you off a ladder or a mobility scooter driving into you, for years the Motor Insurers’ Bureau have relied and succeeded with the defence that ‘off road vehicles’ do not fall under the Road Traffic Accident Act (RTA) 1998’s definition of a vehicle – even when in conflict with the European Convention (EC) directives on the matter.
Why? Simply because, if these off-road vehicles do not require insurance and are not intended for the road, then the drivers do not require insurance to operate them. Hence, the uninsured and untraced driver is technically not breaking the law by driving these vehicles whilst uninsured.
The RTA 1988 defines a “motor vehicle” as “a mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on roads“. Whereas the relevant EC Directive defines a “vehicle” as meaning “any motor vehicle intended for travel on land and propelled by mechanical power“.
The Claimant in Lewington v The Motor Insurers’ Bureau suffered from severe injuries after she was forced off the road to avoid a stolen unlit dumper truck.
The Claimant had been travelling along a dark and unlit part of the A120 dual carriageway at night where two unlit dumper trucks, stolen from a quarry, were also travelling. Although the Claimant avoided a collision she was forced off the road, sustaining injuries.
In the past, Claimants were unable to claim compensation due to off-road vehicles not being subject to insurance requirements and the MIB has been using this to their advantage, essentially defeating the entire purpose of their existence.
When a matter is to be interpreted whilst taking into account the definitions of the EC directives that the United Kingdom is party to, it falls within the principle of ‘Marleasing’. Marleasing is a principle where the courts must interpret the governing Act in the UK to take into account the wider definitions and characteristics of the relevant EC directives.
The case of Lewington has been pivotal in determining whether or not the MIB’s defence in these matters is entirely compliant with these directives. And it is because of this element the case reached the High Court, after an appeal from arbitration.
Once the claim was rejected by the MIB, an Arbitrator was appointed for the appeal which found that Marleasing did not apply as the dumper truck was not designed for use on the roads. The Claimant requested a full hearing and again the appeal was rejected, however, this time Marleasing principles did apply but the Arbitrator held that the main use of the dumper truck was off-road and that a ‘reasonable man’ would not take into account illegal use on roads so the earthmover was not a motor vehicle.
However, in the High Court, the Judge held that the Arbitrator had incorrectly interpreted the law. The Judge devoted a vast number of paragraphs to the Arbitrator’s and the MIB’s failings. The Judge stated that: “I consider that when contemplating the use of an earth mover on roads, a reasonable person would contemplate what thieves and criminals might do and might use the item to do, such as take it from a quarry and drive it, as part of a theft, on public roads”. The Judge stated that the Marleasing principles fully applied and that fact alone was enough to make the definition of vehicles in the Road Traffic Act compatible with the Directive, given the common purpose of the Road Traffic Act and the Directive is to protect drivers from all eventualities.
This Judgment has reinstated the need for the definition of “vehicles” to be widened and for “off road vehicles” to be required to have compulsory insurance.
The Claimant in this case waited up to 6 years for this decision, whilst suffering from life changing injuries. 6 years of potential rehabilitation was wasted, not to mention the considerable stress which this injured person underwent. A progressive step would be to require all mechanically-propelled vehicles to require insurance regardless of the intention and place of use.
In light of the above, this case single-handedly ensured that EC Directives do not permit any kind of immunity from a blanket obligation to insure vehicles used on public and private roads regardless of the circumstances. Innocent injured people now enjoy more protection as a result of this case.