February 5, 2020

Road Traffic Act: High Court considers meaning of ‘arising out of the use of a vehicle on a road’

The High Court has recently considered the application of s145(3) of the Road Traffic Act (“RTA”), specifically how the words 'arising out of the use of a vehicle on a road’ should be interpreted in relation to a personal injury claim.

The Claimant was abandoned by a taxi driver who had stolen his debit card and PIN. The Claimant attempted to walk home, but fell from a motorway bridge and sustained catastrophic injuries. He pursued the insurer of the taxi under the European Communities (Rights against Insurers) Regulations 2002. The High Court held the Claimant's injuries were not caused by and did not arise out of the use of the taxi pursuant to s145(3), and the claim against the insurer was dismissed.

This decision provides welcome clarity on those circumstances in which a causal link will be established between the ‘use’ of a vehicle and injuries sustained by a claimant.

Background

The Claimant had been drinking with friends in Liverpool, and shortly after 3.00am hailed a black cab to take him home. The driver did not take him home; instead he stole the Claimant's debit card and PIN, and left the Claimant on his own three miles short of his destination.

The Claimant continued on foot and during his journey fell off a motorway bridge onto a car park below sustaining catastrophic head injuries.

The Claimant issued a claim against (as defendants):

  1. the taxi driver;

  2. the owner of the taxi;

  3. the taxi company operated by the owner;

  4. the insurer of the taxi, the policy being in the name of the Second Defendant.

The Claimant alleged a direct right of action against the insurer in respect of a claim in negligence under the European Communities (Rights against Insurers) Regulations 2002. The Claimant's Particulars of Claim stated that "for the purposes of section 145 of [the RTA], the [bodily injury] arose out of the use of the taxi on the road".

The insurer submitted in the Defence that the Claimant did not have any claim against it under the RTA or under the terms of the policy of insurance.

The question of whether the insurance policy should respond was handled at a preliminary trial. The issues were simplified by agreement into two questions, namely:

  1. Did the Claimant's injuries arise out of the use of the taxi on a road or other public place within the meaning section 145(3)(a) of the RTA?

  2. Given the basis for the Court's finding on the first question and, in particular, the relevance or otherwise of the First Defendant's deliberate criminal acts, does the insurance policy issued by insurer to the Second Defendant respond to the Claimant's claims in tort against the First and Second Defendants if those claims in tort are proved?

Trial

The court concluded the answer to both questions was no.

The insurer accepted that the taxi driver drove the Claimant to the cashpoint, leaving him behind and driving off was a "use of the vehicle". However, it was not accepted that this use caused the Claimant's injuries.

Mrs Justice Tipples agreed; she found that it was "very clear" that "the Claimant's injuries did not arise out of the use of the taxi". She stated that it was "crucial to consider whether the journey was continuing at the time the Claimant was injured or whether the journey in the taxi had in fact come to an end."

It was held that the Claimant's journey was from pick-up to the cashpoint. Once the Claimant got out of the taxi to get cash "the journey in the taxi came to an end". The accident occurred 2.1km from where the Claimant was abandoned by the taxi driver and 45 minutes after the journey had ended.

There was no evidence "whatsoever about what the taxi driver was doing, or where he was, at the time the Claimant sustained his injuries". The judge concluded that the fact that the Claimant could have been anywhere in the Liverpool area when the accident happened made it "crystal clear that the accident to the Claimant did not arise out of the use of the taxi."

There was therefore no relevant causal link between the use of the taxi and the injuries suffered by the Claimant under s145(3) of the RTA. The judge concluded that the "injuries occurred where they did, and when they did, because the Claimant had decided to make his way home on foot and these injuries were not in any sense closely linked with the use of the taxi."

What can we learn?

  • Had the Court been able to establish a causative link as required, Mrs Justice Tipples noted that the vehicle was ultimately being used for a criminal purpose. The taxi driver had used this modus operandi to conduct thefts previously.

  • These actions were in breach of the insurer’s policy terms which permitted use for "social, domestic and pleasure purposes", "use for the insured's business" or "use for the carriage of passengers for hire and reward under the terms of a Hackney Carriage Licence". As these actions were not a permitted use of the taxi there was no basis for the insurance policy to respond in any event.