High Court: Woman injured in crash not entitled to sue Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland as sole defendant



A woman who claimed that the father of her child had remained untraceable since causing a crash in which she was injured in 2011 has had her claim against the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland dismissed in the High Court.

Describing the facts of the case as somewhat unusual, Mr Justice Anthony Barr was satisfied that the man’s address was known to the investigating Garda since 2012, said that the woman or her solicitors would have known this had they made enquiries about the man’s whereabouts with Gardaí.

Background

In March 2011, Natalie Grimes was a passenger in her own vehicle when Glen Sheridan, the father of her son, crashed it into the lamppost, causing Ms Grimes to suffer personal injuries and other loss and damage. It was Ms Grimes’ case that she had bought the car in November 2010, and that the car had remained in the underground carpark of her apartment since the date of purchase as she did not have a driving licence. As such, she did not have insurance for the car. Ms Grimes submitted that Mr Sheridan had told her that he had open insurance to drive any car, which she accepted at face value and allowed him to drive her car. As it turned out, Mr Sheridan was not insured to drive.

It was submitted that both Ms Grimes and Mr Sheridan were in a pub in Clonee for approximately 3-4 hours, and had each consumed two pints before Mr Sheridan elected to drive home. After the crash an ambulance took them to James Connolly Hospital, and the Court heard that the pair left A&E without treatment apparently due to the arrival of Gardaí – Ms Grimes submitted that Mr Sheridan told her that they had to leave because he was banned from driving.

Untraceable?

Describing the facts of the case as “somewhat unusual”, Justice Barr said that Ms Grimes submitted that Mr Sheridan was untraceable after leaving A&E. As such, Ms Grimes submitted that she was entitled to bring proceedings against the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland (MIBI) as a sole defendant, and that she was entitled to be compensated pursuant to the terms of the MIBI Agreement 2009.

MIBI argued that the only reason that the whereabouts of Mr Sheridan remained unknown to Ms Grimes and her solicitor, was simply because they failed to make any inquiries of the investigating Garda, who at all times had addresses for Mr Sheridan resided. Accordingly, it was submitted that Ms Grimes did not have a cause of action or a right of recovery against MIBI because it was a nonsense to suggest that Mr Sheridan was “untraced” within the meaning of Clause 6 of the MIBI Agreement 2009.

Justice Barr explained that MIBI is not a tortfeasor, and that its function is to provide compensation where negligent drivers do not have valid insurance. The usual procedure is for the negligent driver and/or owner to be named as a defendant, and for MIBI to be named as a co-defendant. If liability is established against the uninsured driver, the judgment can then be recovered from MIBI. The only circumstance where MIBI can be sued as a sole defendant is where the owner/user of the offending vehicle remains unidentified untraced pursuant to clause 6 of the MIBI Agreement 2009.

Justice Barr said it was clear that Mr Sheridan was always identified, and that the key issue to be determined by the Court was whether he remained untraced after he left A&E on the night of the accident. Ms Grimes averred that she had no idea as to Mr Sheridan’s whereabouts until she saw him in the corridor outside the Court on the first day of the hearing in April 2018. Ms Grimes submitted that she had phoned his mother on one occasion, who agreed to pass on the message that he was going to be prosecuted in relation to the accident, but that she did not make any other enquiries as to his whereabouts.

Ms Grimes gave instructions to her solicitor stating that she did not know of his whereabouts, however Justice Barr noted that she had not informed the solicitor that she had been in contact with Mr Sheridan’s mother. The solicitor’s inquiries were limited to an unsuccessful request for a Garda abstract report in 2012, and a letter informing him that Garda David Laird was the investigating Garda. It was accepted that no effort was made to contact Garda Laird prior to 2018; and in circumstances where Garda Laird had two addresses for Mr Sheridan since 2012, Justice Barr said it was simply untenable to argue that Mr Sheridan remained untraced since the accident. If such enquiries had been made with Garda Laird, he would have confirmed that Mr Sheridan was indeed traceable.

Since the Gardaí had the requisite information all along, Justice Barr said that Mr Sheridan was not an untraced driver within the meaning of the MIBI Agreement 2009.

As MIBI can only be named as a sole defendant in circumstances where the owner or driver of the offending vehicle remain unidentified or untraced, Justice Barr held that Ms Grimes had not established an entitlement to sue MIBI as a sole defendant, and dismissed the claim.

  • by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News

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