“Use of vehicle” to receive further judicial scrutiny in the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal in R&S Pilling v UK Insurance. The claim stems from a fire, caused by Mr Holden welding has stationary car in order to rectify defects reported in a failed MoT test, which severely damaged the claimant’s building. The case turns on whether welding the car was “use” of the vehicle for the purposes of compulsory insurance (as required by section 143 of the Road Traffic Act 1988). It is difficult to predict when the Supreme Court might hear the case but the fact that it will very much keeps the debate on “use” a very live topic.

The judge at first instance held that the repair of the car did not amount to its use: “I cannot see how undertaking a repair to a vehicle is in any sense a “use” of it. The repair (as here) may be necessary to make the vehicle roadworthy so that it can later be lawfully driven and thus used but that is a different matter. The thing being used is the repair equipment.”

His decision was, however, overturned in the Court of Appeal, in which the Master of the Rolls said “I respectfully do not agree with the judge’s conclusion that carrying out the repairs in the present case by Mr Holden was not “use” of the car within section 145(3)(a) of the RTA.”

As the judge had done, he also analysed the incident in light of Vnuk v Zararovalnica, the key European Court of Justice case from 2014 on “use” for the purposes of compulsory motor insurance. As is widely known, Vnuk interprets “use” as meaning “any use consistent with the normal function of the vehicle”. In light of that case, the MR found “that the repair work carried out by Mr Holden, in order to put his car into a safe and good working condition and so enable his car to pass its MOT, which it had just failed, and so enable him to continue to drive it, was a use of the car consistent with its normal function, applying a purposive interpretation to section 145(3).”

UKI has now succeeded in getting the case to the Supreme Court. It seems unrealistic to envisage this being heard before summer 2018 at the very earliest. Although the meaning of “use” might appear at first sight to be quite a narrow issue, it remains very much under close scrutiny in UK courts in the UK and in the ECJ, as shown, respectively and recently, by the RoadPeace judicial review of the Road Traffic Act and by the ECJ’s decision at the end of November in Rodrigues de Andrade.

ak Written by Alistair Kinley, director of policy and government affairs at BLM.

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