Serious access to justice concerns have been raised following the scrapping of a new EU law requiring insurance for vehicles such as fork-lifts and quadbikes where used on private land.
Announcing the move, government said it will not implement the EU motor insurance directive issued following the decision of the European Court of Justice in Vnuk that all UK vehicles should carry third party insurance for use on private land.
That requirement would have encompassed vehicles such as forklifts, quadbikes, ride-on lawn mowers, mobility scooters and golf-buggies, bringing them into line with insurance requirements for cars and vans.
Significantly, implementation of the EU law would have brought those vehicles under the reach of Road Traffic Act (RTA) requirements.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “We have always disagreed with this over-the-top law that would only do one thing – hit the pockets of hard-working people up and down the country with an unnecessary hike in their car insurance.”
He said implementing the law could also have decimated the motorsports industry.
“Bypassing Vnuk will also protect the existence of the UK’s world-leading motorsports industry”, said Shapps. “The EU rules would have meant any motorsports collision involving vehicles from go-karting to F1 would have been treated as regular road traffic incidents requiring insurance.”
However, the personal injury sector has expressed deep dismay at the announcement.
Joshua Hughes, a partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp, responded: “The government has indicated that post-Brexit, the Vnuk ruling will not be implemented domestically and that this will be of universal relief to motorists and ‘hard-working people’…. This is disingenuous if not an all too familiar line”
He added: “The real impact of this action will be felt by the hundreds of future claimants, young and old, who will be left without justice when injured by non-standard vehicles or by vehicles on private land.
“If implemented as proposed by Mr Shapps; and much like personal injury reforms to low value RTA claims that were promised to save motorists on their premiums, one is left wondering who will really benefit from this beyond insurers and stakeholders.”
His fear that if Vnuk is abandoned and the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) is able to avoid compensating claimants for uninsured losses, “several of our clients who had benefited from the decision in the past (by recovering damages for their catastrophic injury) would now be left reliant on the state to meet their needs”.
He implored government to retract its “damaging comments” and put claimants at the forefront of its plans.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) also warned that the decision blocks access to justice. APIL president Sam Elsby described the government’s decision as “illogical and inexcusable”.
“Brexit and the promise of insurance premium savings have been used as an excuse once again for dismissing the needs of injured people," he added.
“Vehicles like tractors, quad bikes, and off-road motorcycles… can cause serious injuries, or worse, and their drivers must be insured to use them. Paying insurance premiums is both an incentive to drive safely, and a way to ensure injured people can receive proper compensation to help put their lives back on track."
Elsby added: “A driver is still responsible if his vehicle causes a serious injury and paralyses someone for life whether the driver is on or off the road. If someone is paralysed and left unable to walk, go back to work, or take care of himself, who is going to take care of him if there is no insurance?
“His medical care for the rest of his life will have to be covered by the already hard-pressed NHS. Negligent drivers, regardless of the vehicle, must be held accountable when they maim someone," he said.
But Glyn Thompson, who heads the motor sector focus team at The Forum of Insurance Lawyers (FOIL) and is also technical lead for motor at Weightmans, said motorists and insurers alike will be “delighted at the news”.
He added: “The UK has been avoiding fully adopting the [EU] requirement ever since. The RTA has only ever compelled the need for insurance on roads and other public places and it seems that position will now persist.”
He commented that expanding the requirement for insurance to private land and also “inherently, the types of vehicles requiring insurance - to include vehicles such as those used in motor sport – Vnuk threatened the very existence of that industry”.
“Avoiding additional costs to motorists estimated at £50 per policy, the move dovetails with the government’s stated aim of the forthcoming whiplash reforms – being to reduce the costs of insurance for consumers”, said Thompson.