Can a English solicitor bring a claim for somebody who lives in Northern Ireland against a French driver, for an accident in France?
I was knocked from my bike in France, sustaining serious but luckily short-lived injuries, including a broken bone. My insurance company appointed an English law firm, who then told me that they could not act because the claim was “outside of their jurisdiction”.
My policy did have legal cover which was said to include all of the European Union. When I complained, they passed me on to another law firm who said exactly the same thing. I spoke to a local solicitor here in Northern Ireland who said I’d have to go through the French courts – so I appointed a local French lawyer, who seems to be getting no further than the English solicitors.
Oh dear. This is a cluster of the first order. Luckily, road traffic accidents in France have a 10-year limitation period, so there is plenty of time to sort out this unholy mess.
The law is simple enough, if you know it. As somebody habitually resident in Northern Ireland, you can bring a claim directly against the insurer of the French vehicle – in the Northern Irish jurisdiction, using local solicitors – provided you can show that the accident was the fault of the other driver in French law and, in French law, the harm that you sustained was caused by the collision (and it is self-evident that the broken bone was caused by the accident).
If you can prove these two things, you then need the registration number of the French vehicle – which you have. Your solicitors from Northern Ireland will need to approach the Motor Insurers Bureau in Milton Keynes. who will provide your solicitors with the UK claims agents of the French insurers. This process might take some time.
The two firms of English solicitors you have mentioned to me have very close links to your own insurer. They are run by paralegals rather than solicitors, who clearly do not have the first clue about what to do, because if they did, they would have to advise you that because you are domiciled in the jurisdiction of the courts of Northern Ireland, you need a solicitor based there to commence an action in your local courts, based on the French Law of damages, but on Northern Irish rules of evidence and procedure.
The Northern Irish solicitor who said you would have to sue in France is clearly not up to date with the law, which changed in late 2007. There is a famous European case called “Odenbreit” wherein the European Court of Justice said the victim of a road traffic collision could bring a claim in his or her home jurisdiction – and this ECJ decision has now been incorporated into European treaty law. The position is unchanged by Brexit, but may well be changed once Braxit actually happens and we are outside the European Union. But, as the law currently stands, you can bring the action in Northern Ireland and I would strongly recommend you do so.
I would also recommend that you do not directly instruct French lawyers to deal with this. Unless you are a fluent French speaker you are better off bringing the case in Northern Ireland. Also, the French legal system is extraordinarily slow. I cannot speak for the legal system of Northern Ireland and Its speed, but if you think English Court proceedings are slow, wait until you have tried the French (though if you really want to see slow judicial process, bring a claim in Italy).
French Insurers find the fast and furious pace of common law litigation difficult to deal with, and you will also recover significantly more costs from the French Insurer in Northern Ireland than you will under French law. Again, however, I have to be careful. I am not a practitioner of French law, nor am I a solicitor of Northern Ireland, so I can only give general observations.
RiDE Magazine July 2017