Claim against uninsured driver should go to Piab

 

CAMPBELL -V- O'DONNELL AND ORS

SUPREME COURT

Judgment delivered on May 7th, 2008, by Mr Justice Kearns, Mr Justice Geoghegan and Mr Justice Hardiman concurring

JUDGMENT

The judgment concerned whether a claim against an uninsured driver, which is met by the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland, should go first to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Piab), as other claims do. The court upheld the ruling of the High Court that it should.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, Michael Campbell, suffered injuries when the car he was in was struck by another car, driven by Gavin Boyle and owned by Pádraig O'Donnell. He sought damages from Mr O'Donnell for the negligence of the driver. In normal circumstances this action would be covered by the procedures laid down in the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003.

However, the driver was not covered by insurance at the time. The plaintiff also sued the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland (Mibi). Under an agreement between the Minister for the Environment and the Mibi, if damages are awarded against an uninsured driver and he or she does not pay them within 28 days, the plaintiff can recover the amount of damages from the Mibi.

The Mibi said in its defence that the plaintiff was not entitled to sue it without reference to the (Piab), to which he should first go for an assessment of damages. The plaintiff asked the High Court to decide whether the proceedings could be maintained without reference to the Piab. He maintained that actions against the Bureau were not covered by the Piab Act.

In the High Court the then president of the court, Mr Justice Finnegan, ruled that the plaintiff was not entitled to issue proceedings against the Mibi without the authorisation of the Piab. In doing so he had regard to the long title of the Piab Act, which states that it enables "the making of assessment, without the need for legal proceedings, to be brought in that behalf, of compensation for personal injuries".

He noted that the legislative intention was to prohibit the bringing of legal proceedings for compensation without first going through the procedures involving the Piab.

The plaintiff had claimed that the action came within the exception at section 4 (1) (i) of the Piab Act, which excludes actions where some claim is put forward in addition to a claim for damages.

Mr Justice Finnegan rejected the argument that seeking to make the Mibi fulfil its agreement with the Minister constituted an action in addition to the claim for damages, pointing out that it was the negligence of the defendants that triggered the action.

He also noted that if it had been the intention of the legislature to exclude actions involving the Mibi this would have been stated.

His decision was appealed to the Supreme Court

DECISION

Mr Justice Kearns said that excluding claims involving the Mibi from the remit of the Piab would mean that separate assessments could take place arising from the same accident, which would be anomalous. He also said that the High Court president's interpretation of the Act allowed assessments to be made in accordance with the legislative intention of avoiding legal proceedings for compensation for personal injuries.

He agreed with the president that the Act did not purport to exclude the Mibi.

He said that the approach taken by the plaintiff was fundamentally misconceived as there was no cause of action properly so called as between the plaintiff and the Mibi. He was simply bringing proceedings to recover the amount of damages to which he is entitled in respect of a wrong perpetrated by the first and second named defendants, the owner and driver of the car.

He agreed with the reasoning of the trial judge that it was the negligence of the uninsured defendants that triggered the proceedings, and that the cause of action against the Mibi was the same as against the defendants.

Therefore it did not come within the exception in section 4 (1) (i) of the Act, and the procedure outlined in the Piab Act had to be followed. He dismissed the appeal.

The full text of this judgment is available on www.courts.ie

Bernard Barton SC and Richard Lyons BL, instructed by O'Gorman Cunningham and Co, Letterkenny, for the appellant; Patrick Connolly SC and Frank Duggan BL, instructed by Stephen MacKenzie and Co, Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin, for the respondent.