(Reference for a preliminary ruling — Insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles — Directive 2009/103/EC — Article 3, first paragraph — Concept of ‘use of vehicles’ — Damage to property as a result of a fire in a vehicle parked in the private garage of the property — Compulsory insurance cover)
SOURCE: Court of Justice of the European Union, Annual report 2019
In the judgment in Línea Directa Aseguradora (C-100/18, EU:C:2019:517), delivered on 20 June 2019, the Court interpreted the concept of ‘use of vehicles’ within the meaning of Directive 2009/103 on civil liability motor insurance and found that that concept covers a situation in which a vehicle parked in a private garage of a building for more than 24 hours has caught fire, giving rise to a fire which originated in the electrical circuit of that vehicle and caused damage to that building.
In August 2013, a vehicle parked for more than 24 hours in a private garage in a building caught fire and caused damage. The fire originated in the electrical circuit of the vehicle. The owner of the vehicle had taken out insurance against civil liability in respect of the use of motor vehicles from the company Línea Directa. The building was insured by Segurcaixa, which compensated the company that owned the building in the amount of EUR 44 704.34 for the damage caused.
In March 2014, Segurcaixa brought an action against Línea Directa for the latter to be ordered to reimburse the compensation paid, on the ground that the accident had originated in a ‘use of a vehicle’, within the meaning of Spanish law, covered by the vehicle’s motor insurance. Segurcaixa’s application was dismissed at first instance. In the appeal proceedings, Línea Directa was ordered to pay the compensation requested by Segurcaixa. Línea Directa lodged an appeal on a point of law before the Spanish Supreme Court. As it had doubts regarding the interpretation of the concept of ‘use of vehicles’ in Directive 2009/103, that court decided to refer several questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling.
The Court first of all recalled that the concept of ‘use of vehicles’, within the meaning of that directive, is an autonomous concept of EU law, the interpretation of which cannot be left to the discretion of each Member State. It also emphasised that that objective of protecting the victims of accidents caused by those vehicles has continuously been pursued and reinforced by the EU legislature.
In the light of its case-law, the Court recalled that the concept of ‘use of vehicles’ is not limited to road use and includes any use of a vehicle that is consistent with its usual function, including any use of a vehicle as a means of transport. In that context, the Court noted, on the one hand, that the fact that the vehicle involved in an accident was stationary when the accident occurred does not, in itself, preclude the use of that vehicle at that time from falling within the scope of its function as a means of transport. Likewise, whether or not the engine of the vehicle concerned was running at the time of the accident is not conclusive either. On the other hand, no provision in Directive 2009/103 limits the scope of the insurance obligation and of the protection which that obligation is intended to give to the victims of accidents caused by motor vehicles to the use of such vehicles on certain terrain or on certain roads.
Consequently, the Court concluded that the concept of ‘use of vehicles’, within the meaning of Directive 2009/103, does not depend on the characteristics of the terrain on which the vehicle is used and, in particular, the fact that the vehicle at issue is, at the time of the accident, stationary and in a car park. In those circumstances, the Court held that the parking and the period of immobilisation of the vehicle are natural and necessary steps which form an integral part of the use of that vehicle as a means of transport. Thus, a vehicle is used in accordance with its function as a means of transport, in principle, also while it is parked between two journeys.
In that case, the Court considered that the parking of a vehicle in a private garage constitutes a use of that vehicle which is consistent with its function as a means of transport, that conclusion not being affected by the fact that the vehicle was parked for more than 24 hours in that garage.
Lastly, as regards the fact that the accident at issue in the main proceedings resulted from a fire caused by the electrical circuit of a vehicle, the Court held that since the vehicle, which caused that accident, meets the definition of ‘vehicle’, within the meaning of Directive 2009/103, there is no need to distinguish between the parts of that vehicle which caused the harmful event or to determine the functions which that part performs.