The VNUK case was a Slovenian case, referred on appeal and heard by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It was a case involving a tractor on private, farm land. This is a case which has implications for not only motor insurers, but for any member of the public who pays a motor premium and also for those injured in a motor accident.
The law governing our courts, The Road Traffic Act 1988 expressly confines compulsory insurance to only those vehicles being used on a road or in a public place. There is no possibility of one of our national Courts applying our clear statutory wording so as to fit with the VNUK ruling.
However, the ruling will have a wider impact on The Road Traffic Act 1988, which will have to be reviewed, because things currently stand, it is inconsistent with EU law.
The effect of review of this Act, is that Liability is likely to be widened as a result of any consultation, which will mean a sensible approach has to be given to extending permissible exclusions, above and beyond those exemptions already enjoyed by many in this country. Otherwise the insurance burden on people and organisations which use vehicles solely on private land, would be enormous. And how would the use of such vehicles be policed? That in itself is an issue, and requires further resource.
So whilst at first glance, the VNUK ruling may be appealing to some, particularly those who have been unfortunate enough to have suffered injury as a result of, for example, a ride-on lawnmower being used on private land, the impact of the ruling has to be considered in wider detail before any amendment, which is clearly needed as our case law and interpretation is now at odds with EU law.
But how soon before we are likely to see any amendments taking place? Difficult to say. Parliament is now in purdah, so no changes will be made to the legislation for some time after the General Election, and only once all other urgent legislative matters have taken priority.
Whilst we remain in this no-mans land, the ABI have helpfully pointed out that many current motor policies will now include cover for drivers on private land, and supplement this with the comment that whilst that of course that will not assist for machines such as lawnmowers, tractors and quad bikes, in those cases there may be cover under existing household or liability policies. So it’s always worthwhile making a full enquiry should such a situation arise, involving an accident with any of those latter vehicles.
So such changes are a positive thing. The statutory position defined by the Road Traffic Act is very narrow, and prior to VNUK been the subject of wider, European scrutiny. So this needs to be addressed and must be welcomed. But the widening of the statutory position will lead to a heavier insurance burden, and who is likely be bear this? The premium paying consumer? Yes, it will mean greater protection and ensure wider compensatory safeguards, but at what cost and when? Unlikely to be for some considerable time.
By personal injury solicitor, Kate Sweeney