The Price v Connors and MIBI Personal Injuries Case
By Wayne Finn, Senior Solicitor, Litigation Department
The case of Price v Connors and the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland
 IEHC 437 involved a road traffic accident that occurred in the early hours of the 15th May 2010. The plaintiff was a front seat passenger in a vehicle driven by Mary Connors which went out of control at high speed and struck a tree. The driving of the vehicle was not covered by a policy of insurance at the time of the accident. Mary Connors sustained fatal injuries in the accident and the plaintiff suffered quite severe personal injuries including multiple fractures and a traumatic head injury.
The Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland (“MIBI”) is a statutory body established to compensate victims of road traffic accidents involving uninsured and unidentified vehicles. The MIBI compensation process is currently regulated by the MIBI Agreement 2009. In the Price case the MIBI resisted the plaintiff’s claim on three distinct grounds.
Firstly, in reliance on clause 5.2 of the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland Agreement 2009, the MIBI argued that the plaintiff knew that the vehicle was not covered by insurance yet she willingly travelled in the vehicle as a passenger. In order to succeed with this argument the onus is on the MIBI to prove on the balance of probabilities that the plaintiff knew that the deceased did not possess a policy of insurance to drive the vehicle at the time of the accident. The plaintiff gave evidence that she had assumed that the deceased had transferred her insurance cover to the new vehicle. Mr. Justice O’Neill was satisfied on the evidence that the MIBI had not established on the balance of probabilities that the plaintiff knew that there was no insurance on the vehicle.
Secondly, the MIBI claimed that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence in that she permitted herself to be carried as a passenger in a vehicle when she knew or ought to have known that the driver was intoxicated and not fit to drive. A witness saw the vehicle leaving the pub and being driven in an erratic and dangerous manner just before the accident. The autopsy report confirmed that the deceased had an excessive amount of alcohol in her system at the time of the accident. The judge expressed the view that it was inconceivable that the plaintiff was unaware that the deceased had consumed a large quantity of alcohol and he therefore made a finding against the plaintiff of 30% contributory negligence.
The third and final issue to be considered was whether or not the plaintiff was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. In this regard, the judge referred to the deposition of Garda McCauley who had stated that the plaintiff “was resting between the driver’s and the front passenger seats”. Additionally, the accident and emergency notes from Tallaght Hospital contained the entry “according to the ambulance sheet, Ms Price had been found unrestrained in the front seat with a reduced level of consciousness”. The plaintiff also did not suffer any injuries which would be suggestive of wearing a seatbelt. Consequently, Mr. Justice O’Neill was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the plaintiff was not wearing her seatbelt and thus he made a further finding of 25% contributory negligence.
The total assessment of the injuries by Mr. Justice O’Neill amounted to €223,500 and after deducting the 55% total contributory negligence the judge made an order in favour of the plaintiff in the amount of €100,579.
For more information on this topic please contact Wayne Finn, Senior Solicitor, or Robert Kennedy, Partner, in our litigation department.
A passenger, although generally entitled to recover compensation for injuries sustained in a road traffic accident, can be penalised by way of contributory negligence for not wearing a seatbelt and for willingly allowing oneself to be conveyed in a vehicle when they know or ought to know that the driver of that vehicle was intoxicated and unfit to drive.
In respect of clause 5.2 of the MIBI Agreement 2009, the onus of proof is on the MIBI to prove that the plaintiff knew that the vehicle was not covered by an approved policy of insurance at the time of the accident.