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Victims cannot sue insurers of rapist’s taxi

Rewriting the RTA 1988 is not permissable, Mr Justice Silber says

25 June 2012

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Ten victims of John Worboys, the taxi driver who offered women drinks laced with sedatives before sexually assaulting them, cannot sue the insurers of his taxi for damages, the High Court has ruled.

Worboys was convicted at Croydon Crown Court in March 2009 of administering a substance with intent, attempted and actual sexual intercourse and rape.

Giving judgment in AXN and others v Worboys and Inceptum Insurance Company [2012] EWHC (QB), Silber J said the preliminary issues in the case were concerned with whether the victims could, in addition to their claims against Worboys, sue the providers of his compulsory insurance under the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Silber J said that, after finishing his legitimate work as a taxi driver, Worboys set about targeting women who were alone at night and needed transport home.

“During their journeys home, Worboys engaged them in conversation during which he persuaded them with lies to accept alcoholic drinks, which unknown to his passengers he had previously laced with sedatives.

“When the sedative had taken effect, he carried out the sexual assaults on his sedated victims.”

Mr Justice Silber said that the injuries suffered by the claimants did not arise out of the use of Worboys’ vehicle on a road or other public place within the meaning of section 145 of the RTA.

“In my view, Worboys committed the offences of administering the sedatives, and of committing or attempting the sexual assaults, as part of a separate exercise and it was not causally connected with the use of the car,” Silber J said.

In addition, he said the activities of Worboys when he poisoned and assaulted the claimants could not be regarded as using his taxi “for its ordinary purposes”.

Silber J said that the taxi driver’s deliberate acts of poisoning and sexual assault were not required by section 145 of the Act to be covered by a policy of insurance, nor were they covered by the insurers.

The judge said: “In my view, there is no requirement contained either expressly or impliedly in that section or in any decided case that a car insurance policy covers administering sedatives and attempting to assault or actually assaulting passengers in the car.

“For there to be such a requirement would entail rewriting section 145(3)a of the RTA 1988 and that is not permissible.”

Silber J went on to reject the victims’ third argument, that use of the vehicle was a use insured by the policy, because the cover was limited to ‘social, domestic and pleasure purposes and for use of private hire’ but not criminal activities.

“Applying these principles, there are a number of factors set out in the agreed facts, which show that even if the essential character or the primary and essential purpose of the journey was ‘for public hire’ or for ‘domestic and pleasure purposes’, this character and purpose would have changed by the time when the claimants were sedated and assaulted or the subject of attempted assaults.

“By that time, the essential character or the primary and essential purpose of the journey was the primary purpose of committing sexual assaults.”

Silber J concluded that the insurers were not liable to pay damages to the victims.

“Anybody who has read the pleadings and the agreed facts in these cases must have the greatest sympathy for the claimants in the light of the horrifying experiences that they suffered at the hands of Worboys, but my duty is to follow the appropriate legal principles.”

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Procedures