In April 2020, BLM Law in Northern Ireland revealed their perspective about court closures and indicated their approach to credit hire claims. The advice can be accessed at the link below but has been extracted and re-printed for convenience:
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, there have been many updates by the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland.
Essentially, all non-urgent court business including reviews and hearings have been adjourned indefinitely. No new cases are being listed. Urgent criminal and family matters are still being dealt with by the courts albeit often in alternative ways.
Court offices are open insofar as documentation related to a case is still bringing processed via email for example Notice of Intentions to Defend. Civil Bills and Writs are not being accepted via email, however Certificates of Readiness are. We are currently receiving Notifications of Listing in September 2020. We are hopeful that this will urge plaintiff’s solicitors to settle cases they would otherwise run to hearing due to the significant amount of time their client may need to wait to have their case dealt with by way of a hearing. At present, there is no current NI-specific guidance regarding limitation periods in litigation.
Credit Hire and COVID 19
One area of litigation which will be hugely affected by COVID-19 is credit hire claims. There are less vehicles on the road as the UK Government and NI Executive has banned non-essential travel, meaning the likelihood of a road traffic accident is much lower.
Additionally, the schools are closed and most people are working from home or have been furloughed, meaning that the Plaintiff may struggle to prove the necessity for a hire vehicle at this time.
In situations where a Plaintiff would ordinarily claim despite having another vehicle at home, perhaps for their partner due to working and childcare arrangements, the need for hire may not be established where it would usually be.
As well as this, the possibility of delays in inspection, authorisation of repairs and completion of repairs in the current crisis are high. Arguably, the case for insurers to promote intervention to claimants has never been stronger.
Those with established repair networks that are operative may be best placed to offer (i) replacement vehicles for (prolonged) hire, or (ii) repair services; even temporary repairs may allow claimants to return to the road, pending more permanent solutions.
Where claimants’ vehicles remain roadworthy, then any hire period should be limited to the repair period only and, in light of the prevailing circumstances, it is arguable that entering into hire before a garage is able to undertake any repairs is entirely unreasonable, resulting in damages being limited accordingly.
Demonstrating a profound sense of irony, BLM also offer a link to their Coronavirus Hub which provides their insights on the Coronavirus pandemic and the effect it will have on industry:
I think that anyone confronted with the suggestions above as regards the right of a an innocent victim to hire during the crisis should direct BLM Law back to their own website where they provide extensive guidance about steps that employers should take to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees and that they comply with health and safety legislation in the face of the pandemic. What does not sit well with their approach is their suggestion to insurers where they advocate that
“with many UK businesses experiencing cash-flow worries, credit hire companies appear much more amenable to accepting commercial offers, not least because a number of compensators have temporarily suspended interim payments leading to reduced settlements.
“As previously indicated, with the value of claims expected to spike, owing to extended periods of hire, compensators should ensure that well-pitched Part 36 offers are made to either avoid litigation entirely or provide them with sufficient costs protection, given that COVID-19 hire claims will likely exceed the small claims track threshold.”