Injured Abroad? Local Law Applies

In the UK, a person who is injured by an uninsured driver can claim compensation from the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB), which is funded by a levy on all motor insurers.

Across Europe there is a system in operation (the 'green card' system) which can provide compensation for a national of any participating state who is injured in an accident with a vehicle which is registered in a participating state.

Originally, the way the system worked was that the injured person pursued their claim for compensation in the state in which the accident occurred, which often meant that proceedings were conducted in a jurisdiction foreign to the injured person.

Because of the difficulty in dealing with such matters in a foreign language, the system was amended to allow a person injured while abroad to return home and pursue their compensation claim in their home country, making their claim directly against the vehicle's insurer or, if the vehicle was not insured, against the local equivalent of the MIB. When the claim is made against the MIB, it can seek reimbursement from the foreign equivalent body of the country in which the vehicle that caused the accident was registered.

However, this led to a problem regarding the different levels of damages for injury awarded in different jurisdictions, especially for UK citizens: damages here are higher than is normal throughout the rest of Europe.

A recent case before the Supreme Court dealt with this issue. It involved an English woman who was injured in an accident with a Greek driver in Greece. The driver was uninsured. The only issue involved was whether the MIB was required to pay damages to the woman at the level which would prevail in the UK or that which would apply in Greece.

The Court concluded that when the accident takes place abroad, the local law must apply as regards the legal liability of the driver and also as regards the amount of damages which should be awarded.

The practical effect is that if you are planning a foreign holiday, you should be aware that if you are involved in an accident, the damages you receive may be considerably lower than would be payable had the accident occurred in the UK. It may be sensible in some cases to consider obtaining additional insurance cover.