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European court punts on deciding whether insurance directive applies to EU motorsports

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Photo by Alexandre Guillaumot, courtesy Renault Sport.

In two recent court rulings, the European Court of Justice provided some clarification to a prior ruling that appeared to imperil all forms of motorsport across Europe, but stopped short of specifically addressing whether its ruling directly applied to auto racing.

The first of the two, decided in November, indicated that the members of the court were willing to address the unintended consequences raised in 2014 when it ruled in the Vnuk case that the EU’s Motor Insurance Directive mandated that any vehicle, whether used on- or off-road, must be insured. The November case, Rodrigues de Andrade, concerned a tractor, then stationary and in use in a Portugese orchard as an herbicide sprayer, that overturned and killed an agricultural worker. As the court ruled, the Motor Insurance Directive did not apply in this case because the tractor was not in use for transport; essentially, it was being used as a machine and not as a tractor.

While many legal scholars saw Rodrigues as an opening to challenge Vnuk‘s strict interpretation of the Motor Insurance Directive’s imposition of insurance on off-road uses – an interpretation that motorsports enthusiasts in Europe believe would decimate the sport – particularly if the designated use of the vehicle at the time could be construed as anything but transportation, a court ruling late last month severely narrowed that opening.

Lawyers for José Luis Núñez Torreiro, who was injured when a Spanish military vehicle overturned during off-road training maneuvers, argued that Spanish law, which exempted vehicle usage not on public or private roads, was not consistent with the Motor Insurance Directive. Spanish government lawyers, in response, questioned whether any exemptions could exist and specifically asked whether exemptions for motorsport or for industrial and agricultural purposes could exist.

Similarly, is it possible to exclude from the concept of “act classifiable as use of a vehicle” certain activities of the vehicle relating to its purpose (such as its sporting, industrial or agricultural use) or relating to the driver’s intention (for example, the commission of an intentional offence with the vehicle)?’

However, because the question “bears no relation to the actual facts” of the Torreiro case, the court refused to rule on the question.

In the meantime, both the European Commission and the U.K. Department for Transport are reviewing their own individual consultations on the impact of the Vnuk ruling. Both consultations closed last year.