Today sees the start of a test case, which will push the limits of car insurance policies further than ever before and which has insurers nervously awaiting it’s outcome.
The case involves eight of the victims of John Worboys, the notorious London cabbie who assaulted women who were passengers in his cab. Worboys was jailed indefinitely in 2009 for drugging and assaulting 12 women while working as a licensed London taxi driver. Many had been so heavily sedated that they had no clear recollection of what had happened to them, and so for that reason failed to report the incidents to police, or some found, due to their poor recollection, that the police didn’t take their claims seriously and treated them with scepticism. Scotland Yard was subsequently criticised by the IPCC over its handling of the Worboys case.
In this unique civil claim, to be heard in the High Court today (24.4.12), the eight victims claim that Worboys’ London taxi was used as a weapon in his assaults on them, and at the heart of the case is the issue as to whether insurance covers not just injuries caused by road accidents but also harm resulting from deliberate criminal acts in which a vehicle plays a fundamental part.
Details of the insurer are protected by an anonymity order, but it is believed to be a leading company. The hearing is a preliminary hearing which will determine whether a full trial can go ahead.
Under the Road Traffic Act 1988, insurers are liable for injuries caused by, or arising from, the use of a vehicle. In this case, it will be argued by lawyers representing the eight women, that the phrase “arising from“ is broad enough to suggest insurance liability is not limited to injury in road accidents but also in crimes where the offender made use of a vehicle.
Worboys had access to these women because they became passengers in his taxi, but more than that, he used his taxi to entice and trap his victims. He would target female passengers coming home late at night, usually after social events, and would tell them he had won thousands of pounds at a casino and would invite them to celebrate his good fortune. He would then pass them a spiked drink and once sedated or passed out, he would climb into the back and sexually assault them. These attacks were premeditated and carefully planned and entirely impossible without his taxi. It seems to be that the only reason Worboys got away with it for so long, was because of his occupation and use of his taxi. This gave him enormous opportunity, access and protection.
This is a most interesting case, not least for the women who stand to receive compensation for the injuries they sustained at the hands of Worboys. I and many others will be intently watching the outcome of this hearing.
By personal injury solicitor and Stephensons’ Partner, Kate Sweeney