Will car insurers compensate victims of a taxi driver who sexually assaults his passengers? -Our abuse team consider the decision in AXN & Others v John Worboys and Inceptum Insurance.

You would think that a journey home in a taxi should be safe, especially for a woman who has taken a taxi to avoid walking home late at night.  John Worboys, a taxi driver, was convicted at Croydon Crown Court for a number of offences, including administering a substance with intent and serious sexual enticed his victims to have a drink which was laced with sedatives; once the drugs had taken affect he then sexually assaulted them. offences against women.  He has since become known as the Black Cab Rapist, one of Britain’s most prolific serial rapists.

When advising women who have suffered sexual assault at the hands of a taxi driver, one of the key legal issues to consider is who to sue.  If a taxi driver is employed, his employers may be vicariously liable for his or actions, particularly if there is a history of complaints and no action on the part of the employer to investigate or deal with those complaints.  In the case of John Worboys, it was his own taxi so there was no prospect of a claim against an employer. His victims therefore brought a civil claim for compensation against Warboys and the insurers of his taxi.   It was accepted that Worboys would be liable to his victims on account of his criminal conviction but the court had to decide if his road traffic insurers should pay damages to his victims.  This was fundamental as although the victims could sue Worboys personally, unless he had the means to pay any compensation awarded the claims would be fruitless. 

The Judge hearing the claims chose to deal with these complex legal points as a preliminary issue so as not to cause further distress to the victims by requiring them to give evidence in court.  This meant that the court gave proper legal analysis to the wording and meaning of sections 151 and 145(3)(a) of the Road Traffic Act 1988.  The latter section requires insurance to cover death or bodily injury arising out of the use of a vehicle on a road or in another public place.

The Court was asked to consider the relevant sections of the Road Traffic Act and decide whether Worboys’ insurers would be liable for his actions. There are many cases on this issue and the phrase `caused by, or arising out of, the use of a vehicle on the road’ has given rise to much litigation in the past.  The Court in this case was asked to decide whether the injuries suffered by Worboys’ victims arose out of his use of the vehicle within the meaning of the Act. In other words, was his deliberate poisoning and assault covered by his policy, and was his use of the vehicle at the material time a use of the vehicle insured by his policy. 

Sadly for Worboys’ victims the Court decided the actual wording of the Act and the insurance policy could not cover this situation where deliberate acts of poisoning and sexual assault had taken place.  Accordingly the victims could not succeed in recovering damages from Worboys’ insurers.

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