The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a further appeal in a dispute between two insurers over which must provide an indemnity for devastating injuries caused to a bin company worker.

The High Court found that Zurich Insurance was liable, under a motor policy, for the injuries sustained when a wheelie bin containing glass bottles fell on to the employee as he was loading it on to a collection lorry.

The appeal court overturned this, holding instead that RSA Insurance Ireland, as the employer liability insurer, should answer the claim.

Insurance obligations

RSA is now appealing to the Supreme Court, which considers the case raises “significant and important issues” relating to the operation of the Road Traffic Acts and to the precise ambit of the mandatory motor insurance obligations.

Joseph Moore, an employee of Urban and Rural Recycling, of Wexford, suffered life-changing injuries in the December 19th, 2013, incident. While he was operating and controlling the lift, the bin became detached, fell and struck him on the head.

Mr Moore brought a claim against his employer alleging, among other things, negligence and a failure to provide a safe system of work.

The company had a “motor fleet policy” issued by Zurich and a separate insurance policy with RSA for accidents arising out of a person’s employment.

Urban and Rural Recycling and RSA brought proceedings seeking a declaration that Zurich was bound to indemnify the firm against Mr Moore’s claim. RSA further and alternatively claimed it was entitled to a contribution to damages and costs paid, or to be paid, to Mr Moore.

Negligent use

The High Court found Zurich, rather than RSA, was liable.

Zurich successfully appealed this ruling, with the Court of Appeal holding that liability to Mr Moore was not one for negligent use of the vehicle by the user. Accordingly, that court held, it was not a liability that was required to be insured under the Road Traffic Acts.

In a determination published this week, a Supreme Court panel of three judges said the further appeal proposed by RSA and Urban and Rural Recycling raises “potentially novel issues” concerning the proper interpretation and scope of an element of an EU directive relating to insurance against civil liability for motor vehicle use.

In asking the court to hear their appeal, RSA and the company argued the Court of Appeal’s judgment is predicated on the assumption Mr Moore was the sole user of the vehicle and could have no civil liability to himself. There are important issues to be determined, the appellants submitted, including whether the company was a “user” of the vehicle under the Road Traffic Act of 1961.

The appellants also asked the court to consider whether a person who alights from a vehicle to lift and tip a wheelie bin into a vehicle is a “driver” under the relevant EU directive, which provides for mandatory insurance cover for all personal injuries to “all passengers, other than the driver, arising out of the use of a vehicle”.

Zurich contended that no issues of general public importance were raised by the appellants.

A date has not yet been set for the Supreme Court appeal.

By Ellen O’Riordan at the Irish Times