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Accidents Abroad Seminar and Legal Update

The following account of the day is written by Gayle Kinsey who is a solicitor within the accident abroad team.

Personal Injury solicitors at Lanyon Bowdler have been successfully pursuing claims on behalf of Claimants injured whilst abroad for over 20 years. French coach crashes, rail disasters, aviation claims and road traffic accidents in all corners of the globe are examples of cases where the team have been instructed. A general rise in the number of people travelling abroad, whether for business or pleasure, has seen a consequential rise in the number of accidents and claims. Lanyon Bowdler now has a specialist team of accident abroad solicitors who can offer expert advice on these often complex claims.

Over the years, Lanyon Bowdler has developed relationships with foreign lawyers and barristers without whom it would not be possible to conduct claims such as these. A seminar was held at the Malmaison Hotel in central Birmingham on 6 March 2015 giving those experts the opportunity to present to accident abroad lawyers and other interested professionals.

The event was the first of its kind organised by Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors and was introduced by Neil Lorimer, award winning personal injury solicitor specialising in catastrophic brain injury and amputations. Neil is a partner with the firm and head the accidents abroad team. Neil welcomed the speakers and delegates including Wolfgang Resch the CEO of PEOPIL.

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Jurisdiction – Lucy Wyles

The first of the speakers was Lucy Wyles, barrister at 2 Temple Gardens. Lucy set out the basic rules concerning jurisdiction, i.e. the law used to determine the country in which the claim will be pursued through the courts. She looked at rules contained within Brussels I bis Regulation (1215/2012) which is applicable from 10 January 2015, as well as the traditional common law which applies to those jurisdictions not covered by the Brussels Regulations, such as Mexico and the USA.

The basic rule under the Brussels Regulation is that the Defendant is served in the jurisdiction where he is domiciled. The courts permission will be required where service is outside of the jurisdiction. Lucy set out important exceptions to the general rule that applies in matters of tort under Article 7(2), which states a Defendant can be sued in the place where the “harmful event” occurred; the harmful event normally being the accident itself, and not any indirect damage such as loss of earnings or subsequent medical deterioration which could conceivably take place in a different country to that where the accident occurred. Importantly this is different to the “jurisdictional gateway” which applies under the common law whereby it is possible to sue in the English/Welsh courts as long as some damage was sustained there. The “forum conveniens” rule which applies under the common law is far wider than that contained in the Brussels Regulation.

Lucy set out the details of an interesting case heard by the European Court of Justice in which it was held a hotel which took online bookings with customers in a different country was deemed to be “directing commercial activity within a member state of the consumer’s domicile”, and thus a claim could be pursued by the consumer in his home court.

Other topics covered by Lucy included adding parties domiciled in different jurisdictions to proceedings and direct actions against insurers, now commonplace in road traffic accidents following the case of Odenbreit, and now contained within Rome II at Article 18.

Applicable Law – Bernard Doherty

Bernard Doherty has acted as counsel in many of Lanyon Bowdler’s cross-border cases. He is the lead author of “Accidents Abroad: International Personal Injury Claims which is an essential text for anyone practising this area of law.

Bernard’s presentation on applicable law and, in particular, “Applying Foreign Law to Claims in Tort” flowed nicely from Lucy Wyle’s discussion on jurisdiction. When a cross border case is before the English courts, the judge must determine whether some foreign law should be applied rather than English law. Rome II will apply to events giving rise to damage in member states after 11 January 2009. To the limited number of on-going cases where the accident occurred before that date, the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provision) Act 1995 (“the 1995 Act”) applies. The common law will also apply on some rare occasions where the Rome II exclusions apply such as in the case of certain acts of the State which only a State rather than a private individual can carry out.

Irrespective of whether the 1995 Act or Rome II applies, there is what Mr Doherty refers to as a “fairly universal rule” which is that rules of evidence and procedure will always be governed by the law of the forum. However, the substance/procedure dividing line may be drawn in different places depending upon which applies.

Under the 1995 Act matters relating to remedy including the assessment of damages are considered procedural. This is where the key difference with Rome II lies as article 15(c) states that the “existence, the nature and the assessment of damage or the remedy claimed are all to be governed by the substantive applicable law”.

Mr Doherty explained the importance of the Court of Appeal decision in Wall v Mutuelle de Poitiers. As with many continental jurisdictions, the French courts assess damages using a single expert. The Defendant French insurer argued that an English judge should try to reach the same result as a French court and, therefore, use the French single expert approach to obtaining evidence. The Claimant argued that expert evidence was a matter of procedure and so to be dealt with according to the law of the forum ie English law and thus experts in a number of specialist disciplines should be instructed. The Claimant was successful in this argument. The Defendant did succeed on its argument that the secondary law such as conventions and damages guidelines should be applied by the English court.

The argument, that the aim of Rome II was to harmonise outcome of cases across member states, was rejected. However, dicta in the more recent case of Cox v Ergo Versicherung would suggest that this argument is still “up for grabs” to use Mr Doherty’s expression. No doubt, the ECJ will have the final say!

Antoinette Collignon

Antoinette Collignon is a partner of Dutch law firm “Legaltree”. She is also co-founder of the Pan-European Organisation for Personal Injury Lawyers (PEOPIL) and the first Dutch (as well as first female) president from 2009 until 2013. Antoinette’s relationship with Lanyon Bowdler began in 2004 when she acted as co-counsel in a case involving three young men who were tragically killed in a car accident in Holland. The administrators of the estates, on behalf of the dependent partners and children of the deceased, pursued Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934 Fatal Accident Act 1976 claims.

Antoinette provided a very helpful overview of the types of personal injury systems that exist across Europe. These vary from liability systems like those in England and Wales to no fault systems. In Holland, in traffic accidents involving pedestrians and bikers there is a cap of 50% on any contributory negligence. So even where a pedestrian or biker is 90% to blame for his injuries, he will get 50% of the value of his claim.

Antoinette stressed the importance of selecting an appropriate co-counsel and provided some excellent tips in this regard. With 400 members across the world, PEOPIL is an ideal place to look for a foreign lawyer.

Antoinette concluded with an overview of the Hague Convention on the law applicable to road traffic accidents . Twenty two countries are signatories to the convention though not the UK. Where those countries are also EU member states, the Hague Convention will prevail over Rome II.

Jon Sutton

Next up was Spanish lawyer, Jon Sutton of Spanish law firm De Cotta Law. Jon is the head of the international personal injury litigation team at De Cotta Law. He assists private clients and UK law firms with claims for accidents which occur in Spain. Jon is dual qualified in England and Spain and is a very useful contact if conversing in Spanish is not a forte!

Claims arising out of accidents in Spain are a common feature in accident abroad work; largely due to the popularity of Spain and surrounding islands as holiday destinations. Spanish personal injury law and procedure in the Spanish courts is very different to the system we know under English law and Jon explained some of the crucial differences that English lawyers should be aware of.

It will rarely be advisable to pursue a personal injury claim through the Spanish Courts (there is no recoverability of costs under Spanish law). Where it is possible to pursue a claim through the English courts, the Spanish law relating to limitation, liability and now under Rome II, the assessment of damages will apply. There is a 12 month limitation period under Spanish law. Jon explained how this could be extended by “Burofax” but warned against English lawyers trying to do this themselves. The “Burofax” must be in Spanish and meet certain strict criteria.

In Spain, damages are assessed according to the Baremo Tables which Jon likened to the English CICA tariff. He stressed the importance of clearly instructing English medical experts in a way that their reports can be used to quantify damages using the Baremo Tables.

Paul Rosson

Finally, Paul Rosson of Frenkel Topping considered the matter of periodical payments and the issues that may arise in a case against a foreign insurer. Before ordering an award by way of periodical payments, the court must be satisfied that the continuity of payments is reasonably secure (CPR 41.9(2)(a)). One test of a “reasonably secure” payment is defined in the Damages Act 1996, namely that it is protected by a scheme under section 213 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (compensation). In the UK, the scheme is the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Members of the European Economic Association (EEA) must have an equivalent FSCS scheme in their home state.

Paul considered the Spanish “Consorcio de Compensacion De Seguros” scheme, the Dutch “Waarborgsfonds Motorverkeer” scheme and the Californian “Insurance Guarantee Association2.

Paul concluded by considering taxation and currency risk and alternative options to periodical payments should continuity of payments not be deemed as reasonably secure. This is a complex issue and financial advice will be crucial to confirm or deny the security of continuity of payments and determine the optimum solution for settlement.

The Afternoon Session

Following lunch, the panel gave consideration to a case study; discussing the issues which arise during the life of an accident abroad case.

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The case study was based on a fictional car accident in Spain involving Claimants and potential Defendants from Shropshire, Holland, Spain and California.

The afternoon was a more informal opportunity to apply the helpful points raised by the speakers in the morning to a set of facts, and this was well received by delegates. Chaired by Mr Doherty, the speakers discussed the issues that arise during the life of an accident abroad case, right from the first considered decision of where to bring the claim, against which Defendant, through to whether a periodical payment is an option to be pursued against a foreign insurer. This was a great opportunity for the delegates to raise questions of the experienced speakers and led to a “stimulating” and “useful” discussion as described by delegates.

A former client of Lanyon Bowdler who had been injured in a car accident in Spain contributed to the discussion considering with delegates the view point of a Claimant injured abroad. He confirmed that for him it was important to be able to bring a case in his home country. With Lanyon Bowdler’s expert guidance, assisted by Jon Sutton and Bernard Doherty, he had been able to pursue damages in the English courts and recover legal costs.

Lanyon Bowdler has received great feedback from delegates stating “the format of the day worked extremely well, with the opportunity to apply the morning’s learning to the problem”, Delegates found the day to be “hugely educational” and a “great opportunity to network”.