A claimant who was injured in a hit and run accident, was permitted to amend proceedings to include a description of the defendant as “the person unknown.” Section 151 of The Road Traffic Act 1988 obliged the insurers to meet an unsatisfied judgment despite the defendant being unnamed.
The claimant had been injured in a hit and run collision where the driver of the car was never identified. However, the registered keeper of the car was identified. There was an insurance policy on the car that covered one named individual, but not that of the registered keeper. In 2014 proceedings were issued against the register keeper of the car. When it became clear that the registered keeper was not the driver of the car, the insurers were added as defendants to the claim. The claimant sought to rely on the Road Traffic Act s.151 whereby it was obliged to satisfy any unsatisfied judgement against the registered keeper.
The insurer denied liability, the argument being that the policy being relied on did not cover the registered keeper. Since the driver of the car had not been identified the insurers sought summary judgment on its defence. In response, the motorist applied for permission to amend the claim form and particulars of claim by removing the registered keeper as first defendant and substituting it with “the person unknown”.
The district judge dismissed the claimant’s application and granted summary judgment in favour of the insurer.
The claimant appealed to the Court of Appeal, where three points of law were considered:
Whether s.151 applied only where the driver could be named;
Whether proceedings could only be issued against unnamed parties in exceptional circumstances;
Whether the claimant was precluded from pursuing the unnamed driver because she could receive adequate remedy if a claim was submitted under the Motor Bureau Untraced Drivers’ Agreement (UTDA).
The Court of Appeal after consideration of previous case law and the CPR granted the claimant’s appeal and permission to substitute the first defendant to an unknown person. The Court held there was no reason in principle why in appropriate cases a claimant could not be allowed under the CPR to bring proceedings against an unnamed defendant who was suitably identified by an appropriate description. In addition, the Court were of the opinion that there was no reason an unnamed defendant could not be pursued for damages. The Court further held that the claimant had a substantive right to a judgment against the driver and a statutory right to payment by the insurers if the judgment was not satisfied and that it would be unjust to deprive the claimant of this remedy simply because there was an alternative remedy under the UTDA.
Some have argued that the ramification of the judgment will lead to the floodgates opening to fraudulent RTA claims. Whether this is a consequence of this judgement or not, it is clear that claimants involved in accidents with unknown drivers, where the insurers are identified, are unlikely to pursue a claim under the UTDA and instead pursue court proceedings due to the limited recoverability for damages and costs under the UTDA.