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AXN & Others v Worboys & Others, High Court, 25 June 2012

1 August 2012
The issues

Assault – road traffic – meaning of “arising out of the use of the vehicle” – s.145(3)(a) Road Traffic Act 1988.

The facts

The defendant John Worboys was convicted on 13 March 2009 of a number of offences including attempted and actual sexual intercourse and rape whilst acting as a taxi driver. Ten of the victims of his crimes brought actions against Worboys and the insurers of Worboys taxi. The matter came before the High Court judge for determination of the preliminary issue of whether the claimants as victims of Worboys criminal activities could bring claims against the insurer of Worboys taxi. Worboys committed his offences after finishing his legitimate work as a taxi driver targeting women who were alone at night and who needed transport home. He persuaded them with lies to accept alcoholic drinks which he had previously laced with sedatives and carried out sexual assaults.

Section 151 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA) obliged an insurer to satisfy a judgment against an insured person where after a certificate of insurance had been delivered a judgment to which the subsection applied had been obtained. Liability had to be a liability covered by the terms of the policy. The judgment must relate to a liability covered by s.145 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

A certificate of insurance had been provided to Worboys by the insurers and for the purposes of the preliminary issue it was assumed that each claimant would obtain judgment against Worboys. Section 145 of the RTA 1988 required a policy to insure “such person, persons or classes or persons as maybe specified in the policy in respect of any liability which may be incurred by him or them in respect of the death of or bodily injury to any person or damage to property caused by, or arising out of, the use of the vehicle of a road … in Great Britain”. The preliminary issues were:

  1. Did the bodily injuries suffered by the claimants arise out of the use of the vehicle on a road or other public place within the meaning of RTA 1988 s.145(3)(a).
  2. Were Worboys deliberate acts of poisoning and of sexual assaults such that liability in respect of them (a) was required by RTA 1988 s.145(3)(a) to be covered by a policy of insurance? (b) was covered by the policy issued by the insurers?
  3. Having regard to the limitation on use set out in the certificate of insurance, was Worboys’ use of the vehicle at material times a use insured by the policy issued by the insurers.
  4. Having regard to the answers to issues 1-3 were the insurers liable pursuant to RTA 1988 s.151, to pay to a claimant any sum payable pursuant to the assumed judgment to be obtained by her against Worboys, or any specified part there off.
The decision
  1. The term “arising out of” contemplated more remote consequences than those envisaged by words “caused by”. The application of the words entailed a consideration of all the material circumstances. The purpose of the user of the motor vehicle was relevant when deciding whether what occurred arose out of the use of the motor car. The focus had to be on the question of whether the bodily injury of the claimant was a matter arising out of the use of the vehicle by Worboys at the time when the bodily injuries was sustained. It was clear that the location of the offences was Worboys taxi but that was not conclusive. Applying the logic of the Court of Appeal in Dunthorne v Bentley, the injuries were caused by the criminal acts of Worboys in administrating sedatives and then in assaulting the claimants. They did not arise out of the use of the taxi on a road.
  2. Were Worboys’ deliberate acts of poisoning and of sexual assault such that liability in respect of them was required by the RTA 1988 s.145(3)(a) to be covered by a policy of insurance and (b) was it covered by the policy issued by the defendant insurers. The issues between the parties was whether the law went so far as to require insurance not for deliberate and intentional dangerous driving but for the acts of administering substances as well as actual and attempted sexual assaults. The cases replied upon by the claimant arose out of deliberately using the car as a weapon. In this case, the situation was totally different because the injuries sustained by the claimants were not caused by and did not arise out of the use of the taxi on the road. In the court view there was no requirement to contain either expressly or impliedly in s.145 or in any decided case that a car insurance policy covered administering sedatives or attempting to assault or actually assaulting passengers in the car. As to the sub-issue, the wording in Worboys’ policy covered “accidents involving your vehicle” and the court could not understand how that could be interpreted so as to cover deliberate poisoning and sexual assault. The words showed that there was requirement for the taxi to be involved in an accident, but the deliberate acts of poisoning and of committing sexual assaults could not be regarded as satisfying that requirement even if they occurred in the taxi.
  3. Was Worboys’ use of the vehicle material time a use insured by the policy issued by the insurers. The policy provided cover for “social, domestic and pleasure purposes and use of public higher”. To determine if a use was permitted under the policy the court had to ask itself what was the essential character of the journey in the course of which the particular accidents occurred or what was the essential or primary purpose? The purpose had to be determined at the time when the incident occurred and not at the start of the journey and the critical factor had to be driver’s intention. If the essential character of the journey consisted of use for a criminal purpose then the car was not being used for “social, domestic or pleasure purposes”.
  4. On the assumed facts the essential character or primary and essential purpose of the journey was the primary purpose of committing sexual assaults. The essential purpose was a criminal one and not an incidental or a subsidiary one.

Having regard to the answers to issues 1, 2 and 3, the 4 issue had to be answered in the negative. The insurer was not liable pursuant to s.151 to pay the claimant any sum payable pursuant aimed against Worboys.

Claim dismissed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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