Victims of Sex Attack Taxi Driver Cannot Claim Compensation From Motor Insurer

An interesting case has been decided in the High Court recently which deals with interpretation of the words “arising out of” contained within section 143 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. 

In AXN & Others v (1) John Worboys (2) Inceptum Insurance Co Ltd (2012) the Claimants were victims of sexual assaults by the First Defendant taxi driver, who lured them in to his taxi whilst off duty and offered them alcoholic drinks spiked with sedatives.  The Claimants brought an action for false imprisonment, sexual assault, and assault by poisoning against the driver, but interestingly they also sued the taxi driver’s motor insurer.  The claim against the Second Defendant insurer alleged that the assaults “arose out of the use of the vehicle on a road or other public place” within the meaning of s145(3)(a) and the insurer was therefore compelled to pay damages on the taxi driver’s behalf under the compulsory provision of s151 of the same Act.

It was an interesting argument, no doubt brought about by the sheer necessity of economics; after all, the Claimants were all likely to succeed against the taxi driver (assuming they could prove the assault occured) but did the taxi driver actually have the means to pay any damages to any of his victims?  It is the age old problem of suing an individual, but if there is an insurer or corporation with a big pot of cash to go against, that is always going to be the preferable option.

The High Court in this case decided that the assaults did not “arise out of the use of the car on a road” because the car itself was only a bit-player in the whole scenario.  The wording of the First Defendant’s insurance policy with the Second Defendant referred to “accidents in your vehicle”, so an accident had to actually take place before the insurance policy kicked in, and a deliberate assault could not constitute an accident.  The Court went on to state that in order to consider whether the act was covered under the policy as a “permitted use”, it was necessary to determine the primary purpose or essential character of the journey, which must be determined by reference to the driver’s intention at the time that the act occurred, not at the start of the journey.  If the use was for a criminal purpose, as in this case, it was not covered by the policy and the insurer would not be required to pay out on the driver’s  behalf.

A sensible decision if you ask me.  This case does, however, spark some interesting questions about the criminal use of vehicles and coverage by insurance contracts as there have been some very high profile decisions in the last 12 months dealing with that very question.  There is no doubt that a passenger who suffers personal injuries in a road traffic accident caused by his driver should recover compensation from the driver’s insurer, but what if both driver and passenger were drug dealers in the process of selling and distributing narcotics?  What about a driver who tries to commit suicide and deliberately drives in to a department store window?  Racing with other drivers at night and losing control of your vehicle?

This is an insurance grey area and Court decisions try to balance the right for victims to be compensated for their injuries with the policy decision to protect insurers from payouts caused by deliberately reckless or criminal actions.  It is a developing area, and sometimes requires analysis of underlying European Directives to arrive at the correct answer.

If you have been involved in a road traffic accident call David Mayor or any of our Personal Injury Solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 975 2463, or contact us by email for free expert legal advice.

David Mayor

About David Mayor

David is Head of the Preston Office's Civil Litigation team and deals with all types of private Civil Court disputes. David’s blogs cover his expertise in all aspects of personal injury law from low value Road Traffic Accidents right through to complex large loss claims. David also writes and has a vast array of experience in Public Liability (trips and slips), Employer's Liability (accidents at work), and Motor Claims (motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents).
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