Car Accidents Abroad – The Legal Issues

When a foreign car accident occurs abroad, there are usually questions that are raised with regards to what law should apply and what the injured party can claim for. What would the differences be compared to the law in the land that the injured party resides compared to the land where the injury occurs.

Car accident abroad

A recent ruling looked at road traffic accidents that occur in another EU member state and the legal questions that arise, as a result.

The recent legal case

The case (Vann and Others v Ocidental-Companhia de Seguros SA [2015] EWCA Civ 572 [2015] All ER (D) 36 (Jun)) concerned a road traffic accident that occurred in Portugal whereby two pedestrians (who resided in England) were hit by a car whilst crossing the road. One pedestrian survived (with serious injuries) whilst the other sustained fatal injuries. A relative of the two victims watched the event unfold but was not physically harmed. Liability was proven against the driver of the vehicle but there was a finding that the pedestrians had also been negligent to the degree of 20%.

So what legal issues were raised in this case?

As well as the question of whether the pedestrians contributed to their misfortune, the Court also had to focus itself on whether there was a claim for the family member who witnessed the event and suffered psychological injuries as a result. Remember, the case is being dealt with in England but the law of Portugal applies.

In the UK, a close relative of a family member who witnesses a “shocking event” and his/her family member is injured as a result of that event, is able to make a claim as what is known as a “secondary victim” as per the case of Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1992] 1 AC 310  - you may be more familiar with this case in terms of the Hillsborough Disaster.

The Judges in Vanns addressed the question as to whether there was a similar head of claim under Portuguese law. It was conceded that there was no such claim under Portuguese law and therefore the family member was unable to claim for the psychological effect of witnessing the tragic event unfold.

Other key issues which have yet to be decided, in the case, include:

  1.  Can the injured parties recover monies for the people who have had to care for them, whilst injured, under Portuguese law.
  2. Can the fatal victim’s dependant (usually a spouse) claim for future loss of support (ie. Future loss of earnings/pension being received into the household).

As per the parties in Vann, if you are involved in a road traffic accident within an EU member state and you can identify a car insurer domiciled in an EU member state to pursue, you should face no real complications in issuing proceedings in a UK Court. That is because the injured party can bring an action in the Court of the place in which they are domiciled.  The applicable law will thereafter be applied by the Court. In Vann, the accident occurred in Portugal and therefore Portuguese law applies.

What else do you need to know if you are involved in a car accident abroad?

All countries (jurisdictions) have limitation periods in which you are under a strict time frame to either settle your case for compensation or raise an action in Court to pursue compensation. That time-frame may differ depending on the country in which your accident occurs. Below is a guide to major EU countries and the applicable limitation periods:

France – 10 years from the date of incident 

UK – 3 years from the date of incident 

Germany – 30 years from the date of incident 

Spain – 1 year from the date of incident 

Ireland – 2 years from the date of incident 

Italy – 6 years from the date of incident 

Belgium – 5 years from the date of incident 

CzechRepublic – 2 years from the date of incident 

Finland – 3 years from the date of incident 

The Netherlands – 5 years from the date of incident 

Poland – 3 years from the date of incident 

Portugal – 3 years from the date of incident 

Turkey – 2 years from the date of incident 

Sweden – 10 years from the date of incident

For more advice about your foreign car accident or injury and help to make a compensation claim call our personal injury team on 0800 904 7777 for an initial chat or find out more information on our accident abroad page.