Advice: EU Court judgement raises new questions on quad bike insurance
Q I am a farmer in the North West of Ireland and as much of my land is located away from my house and in upland areas (some of it is very wet ground), I have found that a quad has made life much easier. I have become concerned after reading about a recent High Court case in Ireland which involved a young man who fractured his skull when he was hit by a quad bike while visiting a farm. The case was settled for €125,000. As I have sons myself who drive the quad on the farm, I would like to know where I stand on liability for these types of accidents.
A This year has brought a very significant increase in the focus on farm accidents and farm safety in Ireland and with that comes an increased concern around liability for farmers.
The case that you mentioned along with a recent European Court of Justice decision in the case of a Slovenian man has highlighted issues around cover for quad bikes..
Farm insurance policies tend to be very broad, but it is only when you need to make a claim that you realise the devil is in the detail of the policy.
Policies tend to vary as much in price as cover from one insurer to another, so it is important to shop around and consider what you are actually purchasing.
An EU consultation on insurance cover for farm vehicles, such as quad bikes, used on private land has raised questions about whether some accidents will be covered by insurance.
The Slovenian man's case ended up before the European court of Justice, which ruled that a vehicle being used for the purpose for which it was designed should have third party insurance cover, even if it was being used on private land. The case raised questions about the distinction between normal road use insurance and use on private land, where a separate policy is not normally required.
Simply put, there is now uncertainty as to what cover a quad bike, for example, would need because it is not normally used on public roads.
You should contact your insurer or broker and clarify, in writing, whether your policy will cover quad bike accidents on private land.
Family members working on the farm are often excluded from cover under farm insurance policies. If you have a spouse or child working on the farm you should seek cover which will specifically cover them.
As with any place of work, employers should have employer's liability insurance to cover them in the case of an employee acquiring an injury in the work place. If they use a quad bike it is your responsibility to ensure that the bike is safe. You should also ensure that they hold the correct license if they will be using it on the road.
There are many rules and regulations around the maintenance of a safe work place and if you have an employee you should seek advice on this.
Driving Quads on the public road
A minimum of third party insurance is required by Road Traffic Law in order to drive any mechanically propelled vehicle, including quads, on the public road. You should check your farm policy to ensure that your policy covers this.
Before driving a quad on the public road you should also bear in mind that you are required to tax the quad. In order to use a vehicle in a public place the vehicle must comply with vehicle standards regulations.
Some quads do not comply with some of these requirements and are therefore not suitable for use in a public place. The regulations relate to brakes, lighting (front and rear), indicators, reflectors and the wearing of an appropriate helmet.
As with any road traffic accident, the driver and/or passenger is required to take actions for the protection of their own safety while in a vehicle. This includes the wearing of seat belts etc. Case law in Ireland is very clear that in failing to take precautions like the wearing of seat belts, the passenger is contributorily negligent to their injuries and therefore not likely to recover the full value of the claim.
The question of insurance cover for quad bike injuries is very likely to be affected by whether or not the driver was wearing a helmet. Again, you should check with your insurer if any protective gear or helmet is required in the use of the quad bike covered.
Requirement for license:
As with any mechanically propelled vehicle, a licence or a learner permit is required to drive a quad on the public road. There are two types of quads for driver licensing purposes- light quads and heavy quads.
A learner permit in licence category AM for a light quad can be taken out at age 16, while a learner permit in licence category B for a heavy quad can be taken out at age 17.
Exclusion Clauses When taking out your insurance policy you should be particularly cautious of the exclusion clauses. These are clauses contained in the policy document that an insurer will expressly leave out of your policy.
It is essential that you consult this section and be aware of exactly what and who is covered by the policy.
Endorsement to policy
This is a document specific to you which will list items that you may have specifically requested (e.g. pedigree bulls) or exclude specific items that may carry excessive risk for an insurer (e.g. lands situated on a flood plain).
Generally, this document will override the policy document where a conflict arises. If you intend to include the quad bike in your policy you should include it here.
For those who have simply renewed their policy year after year without examining or updating the detail, it is advisable to take out your policy, or request a copy if necessary from you broker or insurance provider.
The recent case law in this area means that a farmer should not assume that because a vehicle - such as a quad bike or a tractor that is not used on the road - is covered. Check with your insurance provider that incidents involving unregistered vehicles - or those used only on the farm - are covered by your farm liability insurance. The old adage of 'better safe than sorry' is what encourages us to take out insurance in the first place.
Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Ardrahan, Co. Galway. email: email@example.com
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