In a ruling yesterday, the Judicial Committee of the London Privy Council, held that Section 4(7) of the Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third Party Risks) Act, as amended in 1996, solely covered the policyholder.
According to the London Law Lords, the amended legislation was not intended to impose on any insurer a liability which the policy did not cover in respect of the person insured, or the persons driving, or using the vehicle with his, or her consent.
Their ruling was given in the case of Presidential Insurance Company Limited against Resha St Hill.
The case was used by the insurance company as a test case for a large number of other cases.
According to Lords Phillips, Hale, Dyson, Mance and Wilson, who presided over the appeal filed by Presidential Insurance, the issue of indemnification by an insurance company was of great interest and significance for motor insurers.
“There is no doubt about the importance of the point,” the Law Lords said.
They however noted that despite public awareness of the issue for at least 30 years, there was in Trinidad and Tobago, still no equivalent of the Motor Insurers Bureau, or any other facility to ensure that victims of negligent, uninsured drivers do not go uncompensated.
The insurance company was represented by Alan Newman, QC, and Shastri Parsad.
Presidential Insurance petitioned the Privy Council after the local appellate court ruled against it in a lawsuit filed by St Hill to recover damages she suffered during a vehicular accident.
According to the judgment, St Hill was the innocent victim of an accident on June 8, 2005 caused by a collision between the car in which she was a passenger, and another car owned by Edwin Hogan, but being driven by Dexter Denny.
Denny had Hogan’s consent to drive the car, although he was not covered by the latter’s insurance policy with Presidential.
In their ruling, the Law Lords overturned the ruling of the local appeals court in favour of the insurance company.
The case involved interpretation of Section 4(7) of the amended act.
It was submitted by St Hill’s attorneys Andrew Goddard QC, and Simon Crawshaw, that the persons driving, or using the vehicle, or licensed trailer, need only to be doing so with the consent of the person insured; they need not be “specified in the policy”.
Having forced to refer to the Hansard of the debate on the amendment in Parliament, the Law Lords said they encountered considerable difficulty in extracting any clear message from it as to the aim, or scope of what was intended to be achieved by the amendment.
In their ruling, the Privy Councillors held that the natural meaning of the actual text of the Act, as amended, was clear that insurance companies were only liable in the event of an accident caused by the named policyholder, and concluded that it must prevail.