Untraced drivers and the MIB: case law update

On 20 February 2019, the Supreme Court gave judgment in Cameron (Respondent) v Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd (Appellant) [2019] UKSC 6. The Court of Appeal’s order was set aside and the first instance order granting summary judgment against Ms Cameron was reinstated.

On 26 May 2013, Ms Cameron was injured when her vehicle collided with a Nissan Micra. Although the registration number of the Micra was recorded, the driver did not stop and was never identified. The owner of the vehicle was not the driver and was subsequently convicted of failing to disclose the driver’s identity. The appellant, Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd (“LV”), insured the vehicle at the relevant time but in the name of another and it was suspected that this person did not exist. Neither the owner nor the unidentified driver was insured to drive the vehicle.

Ms Cameron initially sued the owner of the vehicle before amending her proceedings to add a claim against LV. In its Defence, LV denied that it was liable to satisfy any outstanding judgment against the owner because there was no evidence that he had been the driver at the relevant time. Ms Cameron then applied to amend her claim form to substitute the owner for: “the person unknown driving vehicle registration number Y598 SPS who collided with vehicle registration number KG03 ZJZ on 26 May 2013.” The application was dismissed and summary judgment was entered against Ms Cameron. A circuit judge dismissed Ms Cameron’s appeal. On further appeal, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal by a majority (Gloster and Lloyd Jones LJJ, Sir Ross Cranston dissenting) and made several consequential orders. LV appealed to the Supreme Court and the MIB intervened.

The Supreme Court held that it was a “fundamental feature” of the statutory scheme of compulsory insurance in the United Kingdom that it confers on the victim of a road accident no direct right against an insurer in respect of the underlying liability of the driver. The only direct right against the insurer is the right to require it to satisfy a judgment against a driver but only once the driver’s liability has been established in legal proceedings. It was further held that the 2003 Untraced Drivers Agreement (which was applicable in this case) assumes that a judgment cannot be obtained against the driver if he cannot be identified and therefore the only recourse was against the MIB and not the insurer.

The Supreme Court also considered “service” in the context of the CPR. The general rule was that proceedings could only be brought against named parties, with several limited exceptions such as possession actions against trespassers. There was a key distinction between anonymous but otherwise identifiable defendants, such as anonymous trespassers who could, for example, be identified by the building in which they were squatting, and anonymous and unidentified defendants. Proceedings against the latter, of which the driver of the offending vehicle in this case fell into, offended the general principle of justice that a person cannot be made subject to the jurisdiction of the court without having had fair notice of the proceedings. Although CPR, r. 6.15 permitted alternative service, the mode of service should be such as can be reasonably expected to bring the proceedings to the defendant’s attention (which could not be satisfied in this case). The Supreme Court also found that it was “hard to envisage” any circumstances in which it would be right to dispense with service altogether pursuant to CPR, r. 6.16 where there was no evidence to show that the defendant was aware that proceedings had been brought against him. Furthermore, on the facts of this case, ordinary service on the insurer could not constitute service on the driver.

The Supreme Court considered the Sixth Motor Insurance Directive but held that no point on the Directive arose. This was because Ms Cameron had not asserted a direct right against the insurer and it was consistent with the Directive to require a claim against the MIB and not the insurer in a case such as this.

The judgment of the Supreme Court will no doubt be seen as a significant victory for motor insurers and the MIB. It reinforces the MIB’s role in compensating the victims of untraced drivers. In light of the judgment, it is crucial that Claimant solicitors properly digest the distinctions outlined by the Court and identify the correct defendant at an early stage.