Judge: end deadlock in courtesy car fees row
Disputes over the supply of replacement cars to not-at-fault motorists following accidents in Northern Ireland is cumbersome and too expensive, a High Court judge has declared.
Mr Justice Stephens said the battle between credit hire companies and insurance firms shows no sign of a commercial or legal resolution.
Ruling on a dispute over a claim by one driver after her car was hit, he said the rates involved can be of "complete indifference" to those hiring vehicles because insurers of the at-fault drivers are supposed to pick up the bill.
The judge stated: "I would observe that the present system is cumbersome and that the present costs are disproportionate."
His general assessment came as he found for a woman whose Nissan Micra was involved in a collision on the Camlough Road, Newry in June last year.
She obtained a replacement car from a credit hire company for 39 days at a total cost of just under £2,500.
The defendant motorist had instead contended that the rate should be just £1,338.
According to Mr Justice Stephens, control on the cost of credit hire under the present system is through disproportionately expensive fact-specific proceedings.
The at-fault driver's insurers have to establish the plaintiff could have hired an equivalent vehicle at a lower basic rate than the charges in the claim.
"Companies now exist whose sole commercial function is to capture and collate internet details of car hire rates for all the different types of vehicles for each month of each year in every part of the United Kingdom," the judge noted.
In response, credit hire firms contend that many of these alternatives are inconvenient or not comparable, he continued.
He pointed out that the outcome in each case depends on the particular facts and the plaintiff's personal circumstances.
With those personal circumstances only becoming fully known to the insurer of the at-fault driver during the course of litigation, the judge said it impeded the prediction of outcome and the resolution of disputes.
"Both the credit hire company and the insurer concerned in this particular case consider that the present system is unsatisfactory and that the costs are disproportionate though the credit hire company blames the insurance company for the disproportionate nature of the costs," he said.
"My assessment is that the costs are clearly disproportionate not only in this case but also in the vast majority of credit hire cases."