EU Magistrate Says Fire in Parked Car Qualifies as ‘Use’

Flames burn inside a van as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(CN) – The spontaneous fire that began with a car’s electrical system should qualify as a “use” of the car for insurance purposes, a magistrate with Europe’s highest court determined Thursday.

Though the European Court of Justice has not yet posted the opinion from Advocate General Yves Bot, a press release explains that the case originated six years ago in Spain.

Property insurer Segurcaixa, Sociedad Anónima de Seguros y Reaseguros had to pay out nearly 45,000 euros to the owner of a building that was damaged by the fire, and it filed suit in March 2014 against auto insurer Linea Directa Aseguradora. 

Though the trial court in Vitoria-Gasteiz initially ruled against Segurcaixa, an appeals court in Alava reversed, finding that the fire was intrinsic to the vehicle.

At the time of the fire, the car was parked in the garage of the building at issue and had not been driven for more than 24 hours. Still the court found that the fire constituted a use since it was intrinsic to the vehicle, without any third-party interference.

Linea Directa next appealed to Spain’s Supreme Court, but the case has been on hold pending input from the Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Advocate General Bot recommended Thursday that the auto insurer be held liable.

“Since the fire was spontaneously caused by the vehicle, in [Bot’s] opinion that is sufficient, to find that the vehicle was involved,” the press release states. 

Bot also noted that this risk is considered inherent to ensure “that victims of accidents caused by vehicles receive comparable treatment irrespective of where in the EU the accident occurred.”

“In those circumstances, the advocate general considers that a vehicle, used consistently with its function as a means of transport, could be said to be involved in an accident merely upon finding that it contributed in some way to its occurrence,” the press release states.

Bot’s opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which now will begin deliberations in the case.

The Court of Justice also announced three other advocate general opinions Thursday, one of which involved claims against Amazon.

Advocate General Giovanni Pitruzzella recommended defeat for German consumer groups that had claimed that the automated call-back facility and online chat service offered by Amazon are not enough to fulfill its legal obligations.

Here too a copy of the Pitruzzella’s opinion is not available online, but a press release states that “Amazon cannot be obliged to make a telephone number available to consumers.”

Advocate General Juliane Kokott wrote an opinion meanwhile for a case involving Brussels air quality.

With regulators in the region under fire over the adequacy of their air-quality plan, Kokott recommended that national courts in such cases “examine whether air-sampling points were sited in accordance … EU law.”

This opinion too is not available online. A press release says “compliance with the limit values for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, PM10, lead, benzene and carbon monoxide should be assessed by reference to the measurement results from the fixed sampling points, without obtaining an average from all the sampling points.”

Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Oe wrote the fourth opinion, again though it is not posted online.

It stems from 2016 when the television channel NTV Mir Lithuania aired a program on April 15 that contained “information inciting hostility to and hatred of the Baltic States on grounds of nationality,” according to a press release.

The following month, Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania demanded that cable or internet television broadcasters abstain for 12 months from airing the channel, unless as part of packages available for an additional fee. 

NTV Mir Lithuania mainly shows Russian-language programs, and the U.K.-based broadcaster Baltic Media Alliance took the Lithuanian commission to court.

Thursday’s opinion from the advocate general says, however, that there is nothing in the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive that precludes the commission’s new broadcast rules.

“In that regard, the advocate general observes that the Republic of Lithuania has, by means of a reasonable measure, legitimately sought to protect the Lithuanian information area from Russian propaganda in the context of the information war to which the Baltic States are subject,” the press release states. 

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