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23 March 2010
Jacobs v Motor Insurers' Bureau is the first High Court case to consider EU Regulation 864/2007 - known as Rome II - since it came into effect in January 2009. Pursuant to Rome II, the court ruled that Spanish law applied to a UK resident bringing an action for compensation against the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB).
The claim was for injuries sustained in a car accident in Spain caused by an uninsured German driver, then resident in Spain.
The claim against the MIB was brought under Regulation 13 of the Motor Vehicles Regulations 2003. These regulations provide for a UK resident to be compensated by the MIB if he or she is injured in an accident involving an uninsured or unidentified vehicle in a member state.
The parties asked the court to determine, by way of preliminary issue, the basis on which the defendant was obliged to compensate the claimant and, in particular, whether Spanish law, English law or a combination of both should be applied to assess the amount payable.
The claimant argued that the 2003 regulations were a freestanding English law that required payment to be made in accordance with an English law measure of damages; therefore, Rome II did not apply. Alternatively, the claimant argued that if Rome II applied, the correct application of Article 4 was that English law applied, as one or both of the exceptions set out in Articles 4(2) and 4(3) were satisfied. The defendant contended that Rome II applied in determining the applicable law, which was Spanish law pursuant to Article 4.
The court reasoned that the purpose of Rome II is to establish a uniform approach when a conflict of laws arises in disputes involving non-contractual obligations in civil and commercial matters, so that the same law will apply irrespective of the injured party's state of residence or the jurisdiction in which the action was brought. In addition, the court recognized that all national laws must be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with, and gives effect to, EU law. In this case it was impossible fully to apply the 2003 regulations in a manner consistent with EU law. For these reasons, the court decided that Rome II applied.
Having found that Rome II applied, the court then considered whether English or Spanish law should apply under Article 4.
In finding that neither of the exceptions in Articles 4(2) and 4(3) was satisfied, the court reasoned that in relation to Article 4(2), the party that was claimed to be liable was the tortfeasor, not the MIB, as the tortfeasor's conduct had caused the damage. It could not be said that the tortfeasor was manifestly more connected to the United Kingdom than to Spain; therefore, Article 4(2) did not apply. In relation to Article 4(3), the claimant argued that the matter (ie, the action to recover compensation from the MIB) was more closely connected to the United Kingdom than to Spain. However, the court held that this approach was incorrect. When considering Article 4(3), it is necessary to determine the place with which the tort has the greatest connection. This was clearly not the United Kingdom in this case, so the Article 4(3) exception did not apply.
Article 4(1) states that the relevant law is the law of "the country in which the damage occurs". Although the claimant argued that the damage in question was the defendant's failure to meet its obligations to the claimant under the 2003 regulations, the judge found that 'damage' meant the personal injury and consequential loss and damage suffered by the claimant at the hands of the tortfeasor. Therefore, the country in which the damage had occurred was Spain and the amount of compensation payable should be assessed under Spanish law.
This case provides a helpful insight into the court's application of Article 4 of Rome II when jurisdiction is disputed. It also confirms that Rome II applies to disputes when national laws cannot be applied in a manner consistent with the relevant provision of Rome II.
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