Motor insurance update: Worboys decision welcomed by insurers

29 Jun 2012

In May 2009 a class action was brought by victims of John Worboys, a black cab driver convicted of rape, sexual assault and 12 charges of drugging female passengers.  The action not only named Mr Worboys as Defendant, but also his motor insurers on the basis that his policy of motor insurance covered not just injuries caused by road accident, but also harm resulting from deliberate criminal acts.

The claim came before the High Court in April 2012 and four preliminary issues were identified:

1. Did the bodily injuries suffered by the Claimants “arise out of the use of the vehicle on a road or other public place” within the meaning of section 145 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (“RTA 1988”)?;
2. Were Worboys’ deliberate acts of poisoning and of sexual assault such that liability in respect of them (a) was required by RTA 1988 to be covered by a policy of insurance, and (b) was covered by the policy provided by the insurers?;
3. Was Worboys’ use of the vehicle at the material times a “use” insured by the policy issued by the insurers?; and
4. Were the motor insurers liable to pay the Claimant’s compensation pursuant to RTA 1988 section 151?

This week the Judgment long awaited by Worboys’ victims was handed down.  It failed to offer the Claimants the outcome they were doubtless looking for, but in his thorough and considered Judgment Mr Justice Sibler impeccably set out his reasoning.

It was argued for the Claimants that “arising out of” the use of the vehicle included more remote consequences than the words “caused by”, however the Court found that there was no link between the injuries suffered by the Claimants and the use of the taxi on the road at the time when the Claimants were poisoned and assaulted.  The Claimant’s injuries arose not because of any wish to continue the journey, but because Worboys wanted to poison the Claimants so as to facilitate and implement his wish to sexually assault them.  This was a factor unconnected with the use of the taxi on a road.

The second issue was whether Worboy’s acts of sexual assault and poisoning were liabilities for which he was required to be insured, and whether he was actually covered by the policy issued by his insurers.

The Claimants’ case was that what was required and was provided by the policy of insurance was cover for personal injuries arising out of Worboys’ use of the taxi.  It was pointed out that there had been a number of cases where the deliberate use of a car as a weapon had been held to be an act for which insurers had been liable.

The insurers argued that the purpose of the regime by which insurers are liable to Claimants is to provide compensation for road traffic accidents, including those caused by deliberately driving badly, but not extending to compensation for matters not concerned with incidents where there was no accident.  Worboys’ policy was limited to “accidents involving his vehicle”, which did not include deliberate acts of poisoning and sexual assault.

The Court distinguished cases of deliberately using a car as a weapon, as in those cases the car had been used with the clear intention of causing damage, while in this case the injuries sustained by the Claimants were not caused by and did not arise out of the use of Worboys’ taxi on the road.  There was, in Mr Justice Sibler’s view, no requirement that a car policy should cover administering sedatives and attempting to assault or actually assaulting passengers in the car.

As to whether the “use” of the vehicle at the materials times was a use insured by the insurance policy, the Court looked to the “essential character” of the journey in question.  Worboys’ policy provided cover for “social, domestic and pleasure purposes and for use for public hire”.  The Claimants’ case was that the use of Worboys’ taxi when he picked the Claimants up was “public hire” as the Claimants gave instructions to be delivered to a specified destination. 

The case for the insurers was that Worboys was not using the taxi for any of the permitted purposes covered by the policy, because the assaults were the primary purpose for the journey.  The evidence (including paraphernalia carried by Worboys) suggested that in each case he intended from the outset to attempt to sexually assault the victim. 

Mr Justice Sibler considered that the essential purpose was criminal, and referred to previous case law which set out “if the essential character of the journey in question consists of use for a criminal purpose (as when a burglar takes his car out for a night of burgling other people’s houses) then the car will not be used for ‘social, domestic or pleasure purposes’”.

Having regard to the above considerations, Mr Justice Sibler concluded that the insurers were not liable, under RTA 1988, to pay the Claimants any compensation payable pursuant to a judgment obtained against Worboys.

Needless to say, in the event of a judgment against Worboys the Claimants could enforce against him personally, however this will provide little comfort in the likely event that he lacks the means to pay.  A claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority may well now be the Claimants only effective means of redress.