Cloned vehicles in road traffic accident claims
Road traffic accidents are often very frightening experiences for all involved, particularly if one or both of the parties sustain injuries in the collision. In terms of dealing with the damage after an accident however, on the face of it this should be relatively straightforward. The parties should exchange insurance details with one another either at the scene or soon afterwards or be able to present them to the police if they attend at the scene. The parties’ insurers should then investigate and make a decision as to who was at fault and pay out under the terms of the policy accordingly.
However, whilst it should be this simple, it often isn’t. One party may not be able to provide any insurance details at all or they may provide details which later turn out to be false. The driver at fault may not even stop at the scene and may not be able to be traced by the injured party. In these scenarios, what recourse is there for the injured party?
The number of uninsured drivers on the UK’s roads has variously been put at over 1 million in recent years. In 2011, Government research put the figure at 4% of UK drivers. Whilst the number cannot of course be accurately proved, these estimates are worrying high.
In 1946, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) was set up to provide a fund through which victims of accidents caused by the negligent driving of uninsured or untraced drivers could be compensated. All UK insurers are required to contribute to the fund. However, the fund is one of last resort and claims are therefore usually only made where there is no other party to pursue.
The MIB operates two UK schemes, the Uninsured Drivers Agreement and the Untraced Drivers Agreement. Under either scheme, a claim form has to be submitted to the MIB. The MIB will then carry out its own investigations and decide whether they will compensate the victim out of the fund.
I recently settled a claim for a young woman who was involved in a road traffic accident in 2012. She was stationary in her vehicle queuing at a set of traffic lights when the car in front of her suddenly reversed into her vehicle. My client’s vehicle sustained some damage to the bumper and headlights and she therefore exchanged insurance details with the driver of the other vehicle. The following day, she awoke with pain in her shoulder and neck. She saw her GP and was told that she had sustained a whiplash injury in the accident. She underwent both chiropractic and physiotherapy treatment for her injuries over the following months but was eventually told that she would likely always suffer some level of discomfort as a result.
Soon after the accident she asked me to act for her in bringing an injury claim. She had fortunately had the foresight to take a photograph of the other driver’s car, including the registration number, and I was therefore able to check that against the MIB’s database of insured vehicles. That search showed that the vehicle was apparently insured, but not by the insurer for which the driver had provided details to my client.
I therefore submitted a claim to the insurer shown on the database. However, things were not that simple. After investigation, the insurer’s representative informed me that whilst they did insure a vehicle of that make and model with that registration number, their insured was not the same person as the driver who had caused the accident and their insured had provided a witness statement which stated that he had been driving the vehicle in a different location on the date of the accident and had not been involved in any collision that day.
I therefore contacted the other insurance company whose details had been given to my client by the driver on the day of the accident. They confirmed that there was no valid policy of insurance in place.
It transpired that the driver who had caused the accident was driving a vehicle with cloned registration plates.
In that situation, as there was no valid policy of insurance in place, I therefore had to submit a claim on my client’s behalf to the Motor Insurers’ Bureau under the Uninsured Drivers Agreement. The MIB carried out their own investigations and came to the same conclusions; that the driver of the vehicle was not validly insured when the accident occurred and had been driving a vehicle with cloned plates. They agreed to compensate my client under the Scheme. With limitation approaching, I issued protective proceedings against the driver of the vehicle, with the MIB named as Second Defendant. The Agreement has some complicated provisions in respect of notifying the MIB of issue and service of proceedings and they must be complied with or a claim could fail. Shortly after serving the proceedings on both the MIB and the driver, I was able to negotiate settlement of my client’s claim at over £10,000.
My client’s claim has finished but the MIB is now pursuing the driver of the vehicle to reimburse it for the amount they have paid to my client out of the fund. My client has assigned her right of action against the driver to the MIB so that the MIB can pursue him instead.
Therefore, even those collisions which appear to be straightforward in terms of the facts can have unexpected complications for the injured party and their representatives.
In addition, whilst drivers who fail to purchase insurance may think that they are saving themselves money, it is in fact a criminal offence and, they can also expect to be pursued through the civil court system where the MIB has had to pay out of the fund for injuries caused by that driver’s negligence.