Spontaneous combustion – fire damage and motor insurance in Europe

Linea Directa v Segurcaixa is a straightforward subrogation claim between two insurers, but its facts make it unusual: the claim was made against a motor insurer for reimbursement of fire damage resulting from a parked car catching fire over 24 hours after it had last been driven.

Previous blogs about the European Court’s wide interpretation of the scope of compulsory insurance required by the Motor Insurance Directive (2009/103) have highlighted the court’s expansionist approach which runs through the case law since its key decision in Vnuk v Zararovalnica in 2014. This latest development is no exception to that.

In yesterday’s opinion, Advocate General Bot recommends that the European Court (CJEU) should find that “use of a vehicle” in the Directive should be understood to cover circumstances in which a vehicle that had been used as a means of transport is involved in a fire despite it having been stationary for some time. The effect of this would be that the motor insurer would be obliged to meet the subrogated claim. The only examples AG Bot gave of use of a vehicle as falling outside use as a means of transport were use as a machine, as a weapon or as living accommodation. The court’s press release summarises his view and has a link to the full text.

The CJEU is not obliged to follow his opinion and it may decide otherwise. It did exactly that last August, choosing not to follow AG Bot’s advice in Smith v Meade & FBD Insurance. The question there was whether a motor insurer was entitled to rely on a policy exclusion permitted by national law but in circumstances in which the national law had failed to implement the Directive. The court, in contrast to AG Bot, decided to allow the insurer to rely on the clause.

Whatever the court’s final decision in Linea Directa later this year, the scope of compulsory motor insurance is going to have to be resolved by the Commission and the Parliament as part of the ongoing review most recently summarised here in mid-February.


Alistair Kinley, director of policy and government affairs

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