Claimants warned against rejecting Defendants offers of hire

The case of Sayce v TNT (2011) is a welcome decision for insurers as it shows how the Courts are taking a tough approach on Claimants who unreasonably refuse a Defendant's offer of hire following an accident.

In May 2007 the Claimant was involved in a road traffic accident, for which the Defendant immediately accepted responsibility. He provided the Claimant with a card which said "If you require a hire car whilst your vehicle is undergoing repairs call us and we will provide you with a hire vehicle the same or equal to yours, free of charge."

Rather than accept this offer, the Claimant elected to hire her own vehicle through a credit hire company and remained in hire for two months, costing almost £3,500.  Had she accepted the Defendant's offer of hire the cost would only have been £14 per day, which would have been paid in full by the Defendant at the outset.

In the first instance the Court rejected the claim for hire on the basis that the Claimant had failed to mitigate her losses. She had been offered a free vehicle, but instead chose to incur the substantial expense of hiring a vehicle herself through a credit hire company. The Court held that a Defendant should not be liable to pay damages where a Claimant had acted unreasonably in rejecting an offer of hire.

This decision was upheld on appeal by Judge Charles Harris QC who concluded that the Claimant had been given all the necessary information to make an informed decision, yet had chosen the most expensive option. He was not satisfied that the Claimant had given a reasonable justification for her rejection of the Defendant's offer and, accordingly, the Claimant should not be entitled to damages.

The Claimant tried to argue that, under the principle of Copley v Lawn, she should still be entitled to recover the cost that the Defendant would have incurred had she accepted the offer of the free hire car in the first place, i.e. £14 per day. The Court dismissed this argument and said that they were only concerned with the Claimant's loss and damage and not the cost to the Defendant. If the Claimant had accepted the initial offer of a free hire car then there would have been no claim to be made as she would not have suffered any loss.

This demonstrates a common sense approach being taken by the Court in that a Claimant cannot expect to recover damages for a loss which could have been avoided. It also reflects a departure from the case of Copley v Lawn and instead upholds the cases of Dimond v Lovell and Lagden v O'Connor.