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Claimant sits back and pays the price

It is often the case in credit hire claims that claimants leave the hire company to progress the claim for repairs or the pre-accident value of their vehicle. This is often frustrating as matters then often drag on, as there is no incentive for the hirer to conclude the claim. Defendants also often encounter frustration in sourcing rates evidence that is on ‘all fours’ with the rate that the claimant claims.

Angela Wilkes looks at the judgment in the unreported case of R S Fleet Installations v Southern Rock Insurance (2015), in which she acted for the Defendant, which saw the Claimant receive criticism from the Judge for leaving the claim in the hands of the hire company and the hire charges reduced by over 95% as a result. The Judge allowed the Defendant’s rates evidence, even though it did not fully reflect the rate the Claimant had sought.

Background

On the 30 June 2012, the Claimant’s Peugeot 205 motor vehicle was involved in a road traffic accident, when a vehicle driven by one of the Defendant’s insured drove into the back of it. Liability for the accident was not in dispute and the cost of repairs to the vehicle were assessed at the net sum of £3,386.02. As the Claimant required a replacement vehicle, it approached Accident Exchange and hired a vehicle at a rate of over £100 per day, to a total sum of £27,360, including CDW. The case proceeded on the questions of mitigation, period and rate.

Facts

The case was heard in Walsall County Court, on 5 May 2014 by HHJ Gregory.

The Claimant employed about 120 people and ran (and owned outright) a fleet of 80 vehicles, all but two of them being new (this vehicle was one of the older ones). The Claimant decided to hire a vehicle from Accident Exchange, which it had done business with in the past and then hired from 5 July 2012 to 5 February 2013 (a period of 216 days). The Claimant then left progress of the claim with Accident Exchange. Arrangements were made to inspect the Claimant’s vehicle in September and a report was then produced on 30 October. At the conclusion of the hire period, the Claimant repaired the vehicle that was damaged in the collision and also obtained a replacement vehicle.

The Defendant sourced a rates report from Whichrate, which provided for a weekly hire rate of £175, although that rate made no allowance for the CDW claimed by the Claimant and the Claimant opposed the Defendant relying upon their rates evidence on that basis.

The Defendant made a Part 36 offer of £2,000, which the Claimant rejected and the case proceeded to Trial.

Findings

Giving judgment, HHJ Gregory held:

  • The Claimant was a significant company and was not impecunious.

  • Whilst the Claimant had a need to hire a replacement motor vehicle, it had the means to visit the conventional hire market and there was no need to hire on credit as it did.

  • It was unreasonable for the Claimant to hire a motor vehicle for a period in excess of 200 days at a rate of £100.00 per day in order to replace a vehicle worth £4,000.00. The company was entitled to hire at whatever cost for as long as it liked but not at the expense of the Defendant.

  • In order to act reasonably, the Claimant could and should have put in hand repairs or replaced the vehicle in a reasonable period of time. It was unreasonable for the Claimant to let “month, after month after month elapse, doing nothing”.

  • By leaving matters in the hands of the hirer the Claimant did not negate their duty to take reasonable steps to mitigate their loss and press for a speedy resolution of their claim.

  • The court found that a “generous period of time” to replace or repair the vehicle was eight weeks, or 56 days (although the Claimant was only allowed to recover for 51 days hire, as hire did not start until five days after the accident).

  • Allowing the Defendant’s rates evidence, the Judge concluded that to refuse to do so would “fly in the face of all sense and reason” just because it did not make provision for CDW, for the £750.00 excess. 

    • In context the £750.00 excess was de minimis, where the Claimant ran a fleet of 80 vehicles which the Judge concluded must have been worth around £500K.

    • The Judge accepted the Defendant’s rate of £175 per week, the Accident Exchange rate was “extremely expensive”.

The Claimant was awarded the total sum of £1,335.50.

Comment

This judgment will be of application in those cases where the claimant is a company with the means at their disposal, to either visit the conventional hire market and/or repair or replace the vehicle. The judgment will also be of wider interest due to the Judge’s approach to the rates evidence in this case and his conclusion that it wasn’t reasonable for the Claimant simply to leave matters in the hands of the hirer, in this case Accident Exchange.

The Judge took the view that leaving the progress of the claim to Accident Exchange was an attempt at negating the Claimant’s duty to mitigate their losses and that the Claimant remained under a duty to put in hand the repair or replacement of the vehicle within a reasonable time frame. In this case, the Judge held that a “generous period of time” for the Claimant to get back on the road would be eight weeks. The Judge also had regard to the value of the vehicle that was damaged in the collision as against the overall costs of hiring a replacement.

The Judge took a sensible approach in looking at the Defendant’s rates evidence. He concluded that to accede to the Claimant’s submission to disallow the evidence would “fly in the face of all sense and reason”. In allowing the Defendant’s rate of £175 per week, he concluded that the Accident Exchange rate was “extremely expensive”.

In the event, the Claimant failed to beat the Defendant’s Part 36 offer of £2,000 and was obliged to meet the Defendant’s costs from the expiry of that offer.

Contact

For further information about this case, please contact Angela Wilkes, Senior Chartered Legal Executive on 0151 907 3432.

By Angela Wilkes

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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