The Gendarmerie turned up. I speak basic French and managed to get across to the officer what had happened before I was taken away in an ambulance. My helmet camera caught some of the action but all it really shows is me approaching an empty roundabout; the actual collision was not recorded.
My travel insurance dealt really well with all the French paperwork but I have had to have 12 weeks off work, six of them on half pay and I have been left with permanent but not disastrous injuries.
I have contacted a number of English solicitors who all said the same thing – they can do nothing to help. I got in touch with a couple of French lawyers who want a good few thousand Euros up front and when I suggested “no win, no fee” one actually laughed, the other said it was not possible in France.
Am I stuck having to bring a claim in France and paying for it or sucking it up?
You sum up your two choices with clarity. Since leaving the European Union, the right to sue another EU insurer (it was always the insurer and not the individual) in your home jurisdiction in your own language is no longer available to British citizens.
The French position is especially hard line. Under French law, the French Courts will not recognise a judgement from a foreign country if the case could have properly been brought in France. Pre-Brexlt, the French insurer had no choice as France and the UK were both bound by an EU treaty (Rome II). I mention this as if you trawl the internet, you can get false hope from outdated pre-Brexit web pages.
You are going to have to pay a French lawyer to commence a claim in France, in French against the insurer, I have a familiarity with French law – but I am not a French qualified lawyer – and France has some quite individual strands of law.
The first is that where insurers cannot agree who was to blame (your insurers are English and they happen to have a good foreign claims team) then you get to sue the driver of the car and she gets to sue you, and your insurers have to meet her claim and her insurers must meet yours. So you’ll get a recovery.
You will almost certainly have to go to France for a specialised French judicial-medical examination which will have a specifically trained judicial medical examiner assess your injuries. This expert is independent and authorised by the French courts. French cases proceed quite slowly as France has a ten-year limitation process but the ‘knock-for-knock’ principle (loi Badinter) means liability tends to settle quite quickly.
The video is sadly typical of an action camera – they tend to lose the last few seconds before a collision if they take a hard knock. However, it does show you going onto a large and empty roundabout, and thereafter the crash photos show your bike on its side and a car parked on the exit, so I think your version of events is supported by the photos and footage.
However, I have no easy answer for you as to funding this claim. Unless your French suddenly improves, you will need a lawyer. No-win, no-fee is a serious professional misconduct in the French lawyers’ code of conduct and no respectable lawyer will entertain it. Any French lawyer who did so would be quite mad. If you were unhappy with the case, you could go to their professional body and have them struck off.
The presumption in French law is you will pay your lawyer yourself with a modest contribution from the insurers of a few thousand Euros. You do have a third choice, if the French insurers play ball. In France, insurers tend to accept that if they are on the hook to pay for the harm their insured vehicle has done, they are reasonably open to dealing with you directly. As the experts are court appointed, if they are prepared to deal with you in English, you could do this yourself. You will need an English translation of the injury tariff system (barème) and your loss of earnings and kit are recoverable as in the same way as under English law.
RiDE Magazine July 2022