The VNUK Ruling

In the recent ruling of Damijan Vnuk v Zavarovalnica Triglav C 162/13, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) found that compulsory motor insurance must cover any accident caused in the use of a vehicle that is ‘consistent with the normal function’ of that ‘vehicle,’ whether the accident occurred on private or public property.

The case involved an accident whereby Mr Vnuk fell off a ladder hit by a tractor and trailer during the stacking of hay bales in a barn.

The Claimant’s case originally failed because the Slovenian courts found that a compulsory insurance policy did not extend cover to situations where the tractor was used as a machine or propulsion device.

Under Slovenian law the compulsory insurance was limited only to the use of a tractor and trailer as a vehicle for road use.

The 2 key points the courts considered upon appeal were, the meaning of ‘vehicle’ and ‘normal function of the vehicle.’ The CJEU were to determine whether the circumstances of the accident fell within the duty to insure the ‘use of vehicles.’

The European Court found that the concept of ‘vehicle’ within the meaning of the European Directive on motor insurance, bore no relation to its use and further noted that the vehicle in this case, a tractor with trailer, was reversing which seemed to be consistent with its normal function.

The judgment made no specific reference to the duty to insure extending to private property, however it seems an inevitable conclusion that the court’s view was that it did.

In conclusion, this ruling could lead to a string of cases dealing with how you determine what ‘the normal function’ of a vehicle is and how far the definition of ‘vehicle’ extends to.

In the UK the equivalent duty under the Road Traffic Act 1988 only extends to use of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place. A motor vehicle is defined as a ‘mechanically propelled vehicle intended or adapted for use on a road’ (Not ‘or other public place’).

The Vnuk ruling will not have an immediate impact on the application of the RTA 1988, however the UK government are more than likely to amend the Act following a review and consultation process. This should provide us with clearer indications in terms of the type of vehicles to be compulsorily insured. Will this mean previously uninsured vehicles such as Forklifts, Sedgways or sit on lawnmowers could also be in the frame?

In the meantime, until the Act is changed, the only action a claimant could take in the UK would be against the Department for Transport, for failure to implement the Act properly i.e a Frankovich action, which is an action in damages against a government for failure to implement EU Law.

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