Kerry Underwood

SUING UNKNOWN DEFENDANTS

with 2 comments


The matters dealt with in this piece are examined in great detail in my three volume, 1,300 page book Personal Injury Small Claims, Portals and Fixed Costs – price £50 and available from Underwoods Solicitors here.

Kerry Underwood offers consultancy services in relation to this and other matters and details are here.

In

Cameron v Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd [2019] UKSC 6 (20 February 2019)

the Supreme Court considered the issue of suing an unnamed defendant, holding that the key questions were the basis of the court’s jurisdiction over parties, and in what circumstances such jurisdiction could be exercised against unnamed people.

The court distinguished between cases involving identifiable, but unnamed, defendants, such as squatters, and unidentified defendants such as hit and run drivers, where it is not possible to locate or communicate with the defendant.

Subject to any specific statutory provision to the contrary, it is essential that any form of alternative service can be expected to bring the proceedings to the defendant’s attention.

An exception might apply for other statutory schemes, but was not justified in the context of the Motor Insurers Bureau scheme under Part VI of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as

  • it is expressly based on the principle that the only direct liability of the insurer to the victim is to meet a judgment against the motorist;
  • ordinary service on the insurer would not constitute service on the driver; authority could only be contractually conferred on behalf of the policy-holder, and here that was not the driver;
  • alternative service on the insurer could not be expected to reach the driver, so was equivalent to no service.

A person who is not only anonymous, but cannot be identified with any particular person, cannot be sued under a pseudonym or description unless service of the claim form can be effected or properly dispensed with.

That result is not inconsistent with the Sixth Motor Insurance Directive 2009/103/EC.

Here is the Supreme Court’s own Press Summary:

Background To The Appeal

On 26 May 2013, the respondent, Ms Bianca Cameron, was injured when her car collided with a Nissan Micra. It is not in dispute that the incident was due to the negligence of the driver of the Micra. The registration number of the Micra was recorded, but the driver made off without stopping or reporting the accident to the police and has not been heard of since. Mr Naveed Hussain, the registered keeper, was not the driver and has declined to identify the driver. He has been convicted of failing to disclose the driver’s identity. The car was insured under a policy issued by the appellant, Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co Ltd, to a Mr Nissar Bahadur, whom the company believes to be a fictitious person. Neither Mr Hussain nor the driver was insured under the policy to drive the car.

Ms Cameron initially sued Mr Hussain for damages. The proceedings were amended to add a claim against Liverpool Victoria Insurance for a declaration that it would be liable to meet any judgment against him. The insurer served a defence, denying liability on the ground that there was no right to obtain a judgment against him as there was no evidence that he was the driver. Ms Cameron then applied to amend her claim form and particulars of claim. She sought to substitute for Mr Hussain, as defendant, “the person unknown driving vehicle registration number Y598 SPS who collided with vehicle registration number KG03 ZJZ on 26 May 2013.” 

District Judge Wright dismissed that application and entered summary judgment for the insurer. HHJ Parker dismissed Ms Cameron’s appeal. On further appeal, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal by a majority (Gloster and Lloyd Jones LJJ, Sir Ross Cranston dissenting). The majority considered that the court had a discretion to permit an unknown person to be sued whenever justice required it and that an alternative right of claim against the Motor Insurance Bureau (“MIB”) was irrelevant. Sir Ross Cranston would have dismissed the appeal in light of the alternative right to an MIB claim.   

Liverpool Victoria Insurance appealed to the Supreme Court in relation to two issues: (1) the power to issue or amend the claim form and (2) the compatibility of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (“the 1988 Act”) with the Sixth Motor Insurance Directive (2009/103/EC).  

Judgment

The Supreme Court allows the appeal. The Court of Appeal’s order is set aside and that of District Judge Wright is reinstated. Lord Sumption gives the lead judgment, with which all the Justices agree.    

Reasons For The Judgment

Part VI of the Road Traffic Act 1988 applies in this appeal. Section 145 requires there to be an insurance policy against third party risks “in relation to the use of the vehicle” by the particular driver, while section 151(5) requires the insurer to satisfy any judgment falling within section 151(2), subject to certain conditions. Under section 151(2)(b), an insurer who has issued a policy in relation to the use of a vehicle is liable on a judgment, even where it was obtained against an uninsured driver. [3] 

The MIB has entered into agreements with the Secretary of State to compensate third party victims of road accidents not even covered by section 151(2)(b). This means victims suffering personal injury or property damage caused by (1) uninsured vehicles and (2) drivers who cannot be traced. Clause 4(d) of the 2003 Untraced Drivers Agreement (“the 2003 Agreement”) is applicable in Ms Cameron’s case. [4]

It is a fundamental feature of the statutory scheme of compulsory insurance in the UK that it does not confer on victims a direct right of recovery against an insurer for the underlying liability of the driver. The only direct right against the insurer is the right to require it to satisfy a judgment against the driver, under section 151, once the driver’s liability has been established in legal proceedings. Consistent with this approach, the 2003 Agreement assumes that judgment cannot be obtained against the driver if he cannot be identified, and therefore the only recourse is against the MIB, not the insurer. [5, 22]

The general rule remains that proceedings may not be brought against unnamed parties, as is implicit in the limited exceptions contemplated by the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) [9]. The main exceptions are: (1) possession actions against trespassers, (2) actions and orders where some of the wrongdoers were known so they could be sued both personally and as representing their unidentified associates and (3) the wider jurisdiction recognised in Bloomsbury Publishing Group Plc v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2003] 1 WLR 1633 (Ch) [10]

The key distinction is between two classes of unnamed defendant cases: (1) anonymous defendants who are identifiable but whose names are unknown and (2) defendants, such as in most hit and run drivers, who are not only anonymous but cannot even be identified. In category (1), defendants are described in such a way that it is at least possible to locate or communicate with them, and to determine whether they are the person described in the claim form. In category (2), this is not possible. [13]

This appeal is not directly concerned with service – it is about the issue or amendment of the claim form – but the legitimacy of issuing or amending can be tested against the possibility of service [14]. An identifiable but anonymous defendant can be served, if necessary by CPR r.6.15 alternative service [15]. Interim injunction cases can fall in category (1), because the process of enforcing the injunction will sometimes be enough to bring the proceedings to the defendant’s attention, as in Bloomsbury [15]. However, an unknown person is not identified simply by referring to past actions [16]. Proceedings against such a person (in category (2)) offend the fundamental principle of justice that a person cannot be made subject to the jurisdiction of the court without having such notice of the proceedings as will enable a fair hearing [17-18]. While CPR r.6.15 permits alternative service, the mode of service should be such as can reasonably be expected to bring the proceedings to the defendant’s attention [20-21].

Applying these principles to the present appeal, alternative service against an unidentifiable person referred to in the proceedings only by a pseudonym or description cannot be justified. In particular, ordinary service on the insurer would not constitute service on the driver, and alternative service could not be expected to reach the driver of the Micra. Nor would it be appropriate to dispense with service under CPR r.6.16 in a case where it could not be shown that the defendant knew of the proceedings. [21-26] 

As to the EU law issue on the Sixth Motor Insurance Directive, the Supreme Court considers no point on the Directive arises because: (1) Ms Cameron is not trying to assert a direct right against the insurer for the underlying wrong (her claim is for damages from the driver) and (2) it is consistent with the Directive to require a claim against the MIB, not the insurer, in this class of case [27-30].  

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Written by kerryunderwood

February 25, 2019 at 6:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Hi Kerry,

    I’m still unclear as to why C could not sue ins direct.

    The provision in the 6th directive (below for ease) seems to suggest you can. Is it the ‘covering the person responsible’ bit that caused the problem ?

    Obviously they would have sued direct if they could it just I don’t quite get it.

    (30)

    The right to invoke the insurance contract and to claim against the insurance undertaking directly is of great importance for the protection of victims of motor vehicle accidents. In order to facilitate an efficient and speedy settlement of claims and to avoid as far as possible costly legal proceedings, a right of direct action against the insurance undertaking covering the person responsible against civil liability should be provided for victims of any motor vehicle accident

    dominicmoss

    February 25, 2019 at 10:20 am

    • Hi Dominic

      Sorry for the long delay in replying. I agree.

      Here is a link to an excellent article by Dr Nicholas Bevan, who is an expert in these matters, and this article appeared under the heading ‘Principle v process’ in the new Law Journal on 15 March 2019.

      Kerry

      kerryunderwood

      June 4, 2019 at 6:44 am


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