CJEU specifies the term "use of a vehicle"

Judgments C‑100/18 and C‑648/17


An important point of discussion in European case law in recent months has been the definition of the term “use of a vehicle” within the meaning of the Motor Insurance Directive. The Directive, published in the Official Journal in 2009, will be revised from 2018 on the basis of a proposal from the Commission. The current version uses the wording “insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles”, which explicitly prescribes the "use" of a vehicle. In the past, however, this wording increasingly led to legal uncertainty, as the scope of the term "use" was not defined. Consultations and legal judgements (see below) have increasingly expanded and defined the term and the Directive should now be adapted.


In the June-July 2019 Newsletter, we had already reported on a ruling by the European Court of Justice on Case C-100/18 regarding the interpretation of the term “use of a vehicle”. In August 2013, a vehicle parked in the garage of a single-family house that had not been driven for more than 24 hours caught fire due to a technical defect in the track. The fire caused damage to the house amounting to around 45,000 euros, which was covered by the building insurance. However, the insurance company wanted to get the money reimbursed by the motor vehicle liability insurance, as the damage was caused by the “use of a vehicle”.

The case ended up in court. However, the Spanish courts were unable to reach a final decision on how to interpret Article 3 of Directive 2009/103/EC on insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles and the enforcement of the obligation to insure against such liability and what is covered by the term “use of a vehicle”. On 20 June 2019, the ECJ ruled that the Directive “must be interpreted as meaning that a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, in which a vehicle parked in a private garage of a building, used in accordance with its function as a means of transport, has caught fire, giving rise to a fire which originated in the electrical circuit of that vehicle and caused damage to that building, even though that vehicle has not been moved for more than 24 hours before the fire occurred, falls within the concept of ‘use of vehicles’ referred to in that provision.”


C-648/17 is another case pending in this case and occurred on 24 October 2008, when a passenger of one of the first cars parked in a parking lot of a supermarket in Latvia opened his car door and scratched the side of a second car parked nearby. The driver of the first car admitted his guilt and confirmed that his passenger had scratched the side of the second car with the back door of the first car. The owner of the second car then made a claim on his own insurance. After deducting the excess, his Latvian insurer paid him a sum of only around 67.47 Euros. The insurer of the second car then decided to ask the insurer of the first car for reimbursement of these costs. However, the insurer of the second car refused to reimburse the 67.47 Euros because an accident that occurred when both cars were stationary was not an “insurable event” in the sense of Latvian law. The case went through all instances and the Latvian Supreme Court finally turned to the CJEU, as it was not possible to clarify conclusively whether the term “use of a vehicle” covers the opening of the doors of a stationary vehicle; and if so, whether it covers a situation in which damage to property is caused by the use of the vehicle by a passenger. Similarly to the previous case, the Court ruled that it “must be interpreted as meaning that the concept of ‘use of vehicles’, set out in that provision, covers a situation in which the passenger of a vehicle parked in a car park, in opening the door of that vehicle, scraped against and damaged the vehicle parked next to it.”

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