24 MAY 2016
RTA/MIB – Limitation – Estoppel
Michael Howe v Motor Insurance Bureau  EWHC 640 (QB)
22 April 2016
High Court, Queen's Bench Division, Mr Justice Stewart
This claim confirmed the position that accidents happening abroad where the driver is untraceable will be governed by the law in England and that, when considering limitation, the usual rules apply as these have not been modified by subsequent legislation.
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This was a preliminary issue hearing to determine four issues. Whether the MIB's liability to compensate the claimant under 2003 Regulation is dependent upon the equivalent French fund, FDG being liable to compensate. If that is the case, had the limitation period expired in French, if not then had the limitation period expired in England, and if the answer to the third question is yes, was the MIB precluded from bringing a limitation defence by reason of estoppel by convention/representation?
In considering the first question the court held that it was bound by the previous decisions in Jacobs and Bloy as to the effect of the Regulations. Although Jacobs was concerned with English law covering the amount of compensation and not liability, the guiding principle was that accidents abroad were to be treated as if they occurred in Britain, and therefore liability of the MIB could not depend on liability of the FDG. As the court had concluded that liability did not depend on the FDG being liable the question of whether the claim was statute-barred in France did not arise. For completeness and in case of appeal on the evidence before it the court opined that the driver would be unable to show that the time limit rule should bee lifted and therefore the claim was likely to be statute-barred. There was a possibility of an estoppel defence but the court was unlikely to conclude that the FDG waived the limitation period.
On the third issue the court had to consider whether the Regulations had modified the Untraced Driver's Agreement making it apply to accidents occurring in EEA states and therefore changing the limitation period. The court concluded that, while it was possible for statutes to modify a non-statutory agreement, it would be a substantial leap for the court to make such a vast modification. Therefore, the relevant limitation period was 6 years from the accrual of the cause of the action. The accrual had not occurred as the claimant sought to argue from the request for information request under Reg 9.2 in November 2014 and therefore the claim was statute-barred.
As the court had found that the claim was barred under English law the court had to consider whether there was an argument that the defendant could not raise a limitation defence due to estoppel. The court found that on the evidence there was no shared assumption that the MIB would not take a limitation defence and nor was there any reliance by the driver on the alleged representation.
Sandra de Souza and Amy Wedgwood, Anthony Gold