Man Run Down in Belgium Can Pursue English Claim

A man who was injured crossing a road in Belgium has defeated an application by the motorist's insurer to have his claim in England stayed in favour of proceedings in Belgium.

The man, who was 53 and worked as an aircraft maintenance engineer, was visiting Belgium for work reasons. He was on a pedestrian crossing when he was hit by a car, sustaining a head injury and orthopaedic injuries. The UK arm of the motorist's insurer admitted liability for the accident, but the group's Belgian arm later commenced separate proceedings in Belgium and applied to the High Court to stay the English proceedings on jurisdictional grounds. Having missed the deadline for such an application by over two weeks, it also applied for an extension of time, contending that a miscommunication had arisen between it and the UK arm and it had been unaware of the English proceedings.

The Court dismissed the extension application. However, in case it was wrong on that issue, it went on to consider the stay application.

As the man's claim was brought after the UK left the European Union, he had no automatic right to serve it on the insurer's UK arm. The insurer's grounds for hearing the claim in Belgium were, among other factors, that Belgian law would apply to the claim, no witnesses from England would be required to give evidence in the Belgian proceedings, and enforcement of an English judgment in Belgium would not be straightforward post Brexit. Arguments on the man's behalf included that he was resident in England; he did not understand Dutch, in which the Belgian proceedings would be conducted; and he had already incurred significant costs in reliance on the insurer having accepted English jurisdiction. Furthermore, the English courts were more than capable of applying Belgian law to the case.

The Court noted the importance of medical evidence in the case and observed that, apart from a hospital examination in Brussels following the accident, all the man's treatment had occurred in the UK. The Court also considered that it would be unjust to require him to pursue his claim in Belgium, because of the difficulties with travel and language this would involve and the likely impact in terms of legal costs.