Payout Battle on Uninsured Irish Driver Is a Wrap After 21 Years

(CN) – Looking at a 1996 fatal car accident involving an uninsured, drunken driver, the European Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that liability for one passenger’s injuries falls to the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland.

Though the ruling offers little in the way of specifics about the Jan. 26, 1996, crash, older news reports say it happened in the Tallaght section of Dublin.

Elaine Farrell and her 19-year-old sister, Marie, had been sitting on the floor of the van along with two others when Alan Whitty crashed it into a wall on Fortunestown Lane. The van was not outfitted with passenger seats in the back, so only Whitty and a male passenger in the front had seats.

Over the past two decades, both the Irish and EU court system have weighed in on the claims of Elaine Farrell, whose sister was killed in the crash.

The first dispute to head to Luxembourg centered on the refusal by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland to pay out after Farrell obtained a judgment against Whitty.

With the MIBI’s argument hinging on the van’s seating design, Farrell claimed that the MIBI was in breach of EU directives on compulsory insurance. The European Court of Justice agreed with Farrell, just over 10 years ago to the day in April 2007.

Farrell has since been compensated but a new dispute arose over whether the MIBI or the Irish government are responsible for financing that judgment.

MIBI disputed that it was an emanation of the state, leading the Court of Justice to rule Tuesday that a body need not meet all the characteristics laid out in the 1990 decision Foster and others to be subject to EU directives.

A 2007 report from the Irish Independent noted that the MIBI is funded by a 445 euro levy on insurance-paying drivers. Owing to the extra costs borne by rising claims, however, drivers have seen a 70 percent rise in premiums over the last three years, according to a December 2016 report by the Irish Examiner.

When Farrell had her first court win in 2007, 6 percent of Irish drivers were uninsured. The MIBI put that figure at about 7 percent in December 2016.

Irish authorities have raised the stakes substantially for uninsured drivers. Penalties range from $5,000 fines and penalty points to license disqualification and months-long imprisonment.

Whitty, who was 26 years old at the time of the 1996 crash, was jailed for three years and banned from driving for five years.

His blood-alcohol content was 0.151. Ireland’s BAC limit for fully licensed, noncommercial drivers has been 0.05 grams of alcohol per 100 grams of blood since 2011, building off a 0.08 limit instituted in 1994.

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