In an Order published on 14 February, the Court of Justice of the EU showed it continues to interpret the scope of compulsory insurance in the Motor Insurance Directive, widely to give maximum effect to the protection of injured parties. This will come as little surprise given its approach since Vnuk in 2014.
On 14 February 2020 the court published, in English, the operative part of its Order in Bueno Ruiz v Sanchez C-431/18. It provides that “use of vehicle” in the Directive should be interpreted as covering “a vehicle which has been manoeuvred and/or parked in a private car park, in accordance with its function as a means of transport, is involved in an accident in that car park.” At that level of abstraction, the decision appears to be a readily predictable one and directly traceable to Vnuk.
The facts of the case are nevertheless, worth analysing. These are reported in the full text of the Court’s Order which for the time being, is available only in French or Spanish.
The dispute arose from a Ms Sanchez sustaining an injury when she slipped on engine oil in a private car park in September 2015. The oil had been discharged by Ms Bueno Ruiz’s car (insured by Zurich España) which had been parked there for some time. It was still parked at the time of Ms Sanchez’s fall.
She was awarded a modest €11,500 by the first instance court in Spain. An appeal was lodged with the Zaragoza court which referred the issue to the CJEU, asking if compulsory insurance for use of vehicles as required by the Directive should be interpreted to cover risks arising out of liquids leaking from a vehicle parked in private property?
The court stated that its June 2019 decision in Linea Directa (which we analysed here) explained clearly that neither actual motion of an insured vehicle nor its engine operating were pre-requisites to the compulsory insurance requirement in the Directive. What was necessary was “use … as a means of transport” and it was clear that the car had been driven (as a means of transport) before being parked. That being so, the court was empowered to proceed without a judgment* and resolve the point by delivering a reasoned Order in the terms quoted above.
Other than for the procedural quirk of an Order rather than a judgment, the outcome is largely as would have been expected. While it probably does not expand the approach to the Directive beyond that already understood in the case law from Vnuk to Linea Directa, it does serve to reemphasise the wide interpretation of compulsory motor insurance by the court.
Even having left the EU, the UK is obliged to follow this approach for the remainder of the transition period until 31 December 2020. But thereafter it is far from clear how our future regime of motor insurance might measure up against this European model.
* Which is permissible where a question is identical to one which has already been decided such that either the answer may be clearly deduced from the case law or there is no reasonable doubt about the answer.