Insurers will have been waiting with interest for the Court of Appeal decision in the case of Cameron v Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd.
The surprising decision in the High Court had created a situation whereby a claimant, in circumstances where the driver of a motor vehicle involved in an accident was untraced, could issue a claim again a ‘person unknown’ or similar pseudonym. Service on such a defendant would be impossible for all practical purposes and the insurer of the vehicle would potentially face ambush by the claimant, and be asked to satisfy a judgment in relation to a claim it previously knew nothing about.
The ruling was described in some quarters as creating a ‘fraudsters’ charter’.
The Court of Appeal saw Lord Sumption allow an appeal by insurer LV=, made with the support of the MIB, against a Court of Appeal judgment.
Details of the case
The case was brought following a collision in 2013, from which the Nissan Micra at fault failed to stop and drove away from the scene. A registered keeper was located, following a trace of the number plates, and was convicted of failing to reveal who was driving at the time of the accident. The car was insured under a policy issued by LV= against which Bianca Cameron, the innocent driver, brought a claim.
Rather than issue a claim under the Untraced Driver Agreement the Bond Turner solicitors representing the claimant issued a claim against an unknown driver. The claimant decision to follow this course of action was permitted at District Judge level and in the High Court – the lower court’s ruling would permit an unknown person to be sued whenever justice required it.
This judgment sets aside that ruling. Lord Sumption concluded that 'a person, such as the driver of the Micra in the present case, who is not just anonymous but cannot be identified with any particular person, cannot be sued under a pseudonym or description.'
Lord Reed, Lord Cornwath, Lord Hodge and Lady Black agreed with the judgment.
The Court of Appeal considered the MIB framework and in particular the unusual circumstances when the court may allow an action against a ‘John Doe’ or unknown person. In the circumstances giving rise to the action under consideration the court would not allow such an action. Insurers were rightly concerned that claimant solicitors would seek to take advantage of the ruling to issue claims against unknown/unidentified drivers, service would be impossible, the claimant would obtain an unchallenged judgment and present that to an insurer on cover in relation to the vehicle.
Martin Milliner, claims director at LV=, said: 'Although the case in question was a low value motor claim, the claimant’s arguments sought to drive a coach and horses through UK law. If this blatant attack on the MIB untraced drivers agreement had been successful then it would have created a "fraudsters charter" that could have been abused by criminals for a safe passage through the judicial system.
'The concept that insurers could have been liable to satisfy judgments against unidentified defendants, without an opportunity to investigate the claim, could have had grave consequences for the industry and its customers.'
Access the full judgment here