EU Commission to act on Vnuk case harming motorsport in Europe

Robert Lynn

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Action by the EU Commission to draft amendments to the Motor Insurance Directive in response to the landmark Vnuk case is expected in the next six weeks.

EU Commission to act on Vnuk Case harming motorsport in Europe - Photo Credit: Robert Lynn
EU Commission to act on Vnuk Case harming motorsport in Europe – Photo Credit: Robert Lynn

The news comes following Irish MEP Brian Hayes’ warning in January to the EU Commission to get their act together in sorting the ongoing mess of the Vunk ruling that threatens to force mandatory insurance on all vehicles on private property in the European Union.

“The Vnuk judgement effectively means that all vehicles in the EU, whether it is a tractor or a race car, must have mandatory insurance on private property,” explained Hayes.

“Currently, Irish law only requires motor insurance for the use of vehicles on a road or any other public place.”

Now in a statement issued by FIM Europe’s motorcycling governing body on 24 February, it seems that the EU Commission will specifically address the problems of the Vnuk verdict that offer potential serious harm to motorsport, both two wheels and four in the next six weeks.

The overall revision of the Directive will be kept separate. As the EU institutions will have to agree, a full process will be required with public consultation, impact assessment and approval by the EU Parliament.

“This is one of the most complex issues we have ever faced in our sport,” told FIM Europe Director of Public Affairs, John Chatterton-Ross. “Jurisdiction in personal injury litigation is a matter for national law.

“In this case the Court of Justice used EU law to remedy what it perceived as a defect in the national law of Slovenia. FIM Europe will contribute to the consultation process and assist the EU institutions to resolve this”.  

The ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in regards to the Vnuk legal case has the potential to end or drastically change motorsport in Europe as we know it by positioning it financially out of reach for many.

Irish MEP Brian Hayes has been very vocal in his concerns for the Vnuk case - Photo Credit: Brian Hayes/EPP Group
Irish MEP Brian Hayes has been very vocal in his concerns for the Vnuk case – Photo Credit: Brian Hayes/EPP Group

What is the Vnuk Case?

In August 2007 Slovenian Damijan Vunk working on a farm was injured when the farmer who was parking his tractor and trailer in a barn accidentally reversed into the ladder Vnuk was up on.

Vunk sued for compensation to the amount of €15,944.10. Slovenian courts rejected his claims by saying that the tractor was at the time not being used as a method of transport but one of propulsion to manoeuvre the trailer attached.

The case was then referred to the ECJ. In September 2014 the ECJ ruled in Vnuks favour interpreting the European Motor Insurance Directive to mean that any motor vehicle must have third party insurance regardless of whether they are on private or public land.

So how does this affect motorsport?

In framing their judgment the ECJ extended the scope to the point where many other activities including motorcycle and motorsports are now affected. And because the ECJ is the highest court in the European Union there is no possibility of appeal.

This now means in theory that any motorised vehicle used on any type of private or public land must be covered by third party insurance.

Mondello Park at risk says Hayes

For Ireland, that means purpose built motorsport facilities like Mondello Park in Co. Kildare are at risk. Competitor to competitor insurance for high-powered non road legal machinery is impossible.

“This judgement could have a disastrous effect on many private businesses and there is a real risk that places like Mondello Park will be closed down if the new rules are forced on Member States,” warned Hayes when he branded it a “disgrace” that the Commission were dragging their heels on the Vnuk ruling.

“Insurers have said that unlimited third party ‘competitor to competitor’ insurance is effectively uninsurable and will not be made available.”

This would also mean smaller but purpose built motocross facilities like Gormanston Motocross Park in Co. Meath, where children as young as six or seven compete, could be stamped out.

Hayes is not alone in voicing concern. In December 2016 the UK’s Motorcycle Industry Association (MCIA) issued a stark warning that British motorsport could end due to the EU ruling.

“If the government implements the Vnuk judgment un-amended, British motorcycle sport would end in the UK,” told MCIA’s CEO Steve Kenward.

Golf buggies and mobility scooters also in firing line

The Vnuk ruling extends to golf buggies, ride-on lawn mowers and even mobility scooters - Photo Credit: cazigi
Vnuk ruling extends to golf buggies, ride-on lawn mowers and even mobility scooters – Photo Credit: cazigi

However, as mentioned, it has the potential to be even further wide reaching than motorsport in Ireland.

Article 3(1) of the First Directive states “the concept of ‘use of vehicles’ in that article covers any use of a vehicle that is consistent with the normal function of that vehicle.”

As well as affecting all motorsport vehicles, it could affect electric bicycles, sit-on lawnmowers, golf buggies, mobility scooters, segways and even motorised ride-on children’s toys.

Uninsured vehicles parked on private property under the Statutory Off-Road Notification scheme are also at risk.

Given the far reaching consequences of the ECJ ruling — possibly more than initially realised — it’s clear that the wording of the Motor Insurance Directive needs amending, which FIM Europe’s President Dr. Wolfgang Srb is confident will happen, albeit a year later than anticipated…

“We have sympathy for Mr Vnuk. We hope that the unintended consequences of this judgment can be resolved by the EU institutions by quarter four of 2017.

“This will be a year later than originally planned. FIM Europe will attend to each stage in the process and do everything to assist in obtaining a resolution.”

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Robert Lynn