Insurance blow for victims of 'black-cab rapist' John Worboys
Monday 25 June 2012
Passengers of a taxi driver who became known as the notorious "black-cab rapist" lost a crucial step in their battle for damages today.
Ten women had asked a High Court judge in London to rule in their favour in a unique action relating to the liability of motor insurers over their injuries.
John Worboys, 54, was jailed indefinitely in 2009 after being convicted at Croydon Crown Court of drugging and sexually assaulting women while working as a licensed London taxi driver.
Mr Justice Silber dismissed applications brought against Inceptum Insurance Company Limited, formerly known as HSBC Insurance (UK) Limited, on a preliminary issue of it was liable to pay damages because Worboys' crimes were committed in his insured taxi.
The judge expressed the "greatest sympathy" for the women "in the light of the horrifying experiences that they suffered at the hands of Worboys", but said his duty was to "follow the appropriate legal principles".
The women had asked the judge for a declaration that "upon the claimant obtaining a judgment against Mr Worboys for damages and interest and/or costs in respect of the matters complained of", the insurers were "liable to pay to the claimant such judgment sum together with any interest due thereon".
During the hearing of the action in April, Edwin Glasgow QC, for the passengers, told the court: "The fundamental issue in these cases is whether personal injuries caused by a taxi driver's assaults on a passenger, during the course of a journey, were 'caused by or arose out of the use of a vehicle on a road' for the purposes of compulsory insurance as required by the Road Traffic Act 1988."
Mr Glasgow said the key to resolving that issue was "the role that the taxi and the taxi driver played in the events which occurred".
He added: "It is our submission that the use of the taxi and the part that it played in the attacks that occurred during the course of the journeys was essential and material."
The QC told the court: "The taxi did not just happen to be at the place where the assaults occurred. It was the symbol of security which seduced these young women to believe they were safe."
The taxi became the place where the women were "falsely imprisoned", where Worboys made up his mind he was going to attack them, where they were poisoned - and it "provided the means" by which the attacks could take place.
Worboys used his taxi as a "lure" to unsuspecting young women who were tricked into believing their safety was ensured by two things - the black cab and the licensed driver.
Each of the claimants was a passenger in Worboys' taxi in 2007 or 2008.
Mr Glasgow said Worboys was "clearly liable to the claimants for his intentional tortious conduct".
His liability to each of them was "in respect of the bodily injury caused to her by, and/or arising out of, the use of his vehicle on the road".
The second defendant - the insurers - "agreed to and did insure Mr Worboys, pursuant to the Road Traffic Act 1988 in respect of his liability to the claimants for these matters".
The move was contested by the insurers.
In his ruling today, Mr Justice Silber found that the bodily injuries suffered by the women did not arise out of the use of Worboys' vehicle on a road or other public place within the meaning of the 1988 Act.
He announced that Worboys' use of the vehicle at the material times was not a use insured by the policy issued by the insurers.
The judge ruled that the insurers were not liable "to pay to a claimant any sum payable pursuant to the assumed judgment to be obtained by her against Worboys, or any specified part thereof".
Giving the background to the case, Mr Justice Silber said Worboys targeted women who were alone at night and needed transport home.
He persuaded them with lies to accept alcoholic drinks, "which, unknown to his passengers, he had previously laced with sedative".
When the sedative had taken effect he "carried out the sexual assaults on his sedated victims".
The consequences for the victims were "not surprisingly traumatic and devastating".
Following his conviction, civil actions were launched by 10 women and it was "understood that other victims may bring similar actions".
Claims were brought against Worboys "for damages alleging assault by poisoning, sexual assault and false imprisonment".
The judge said: "It is to be assumed for the purpose of the present preliminary hearing that the liability of Worboys will be established."
His ruling today was "concerned with whether, and to what extent, the claimants have, in addition to their claims against Worboys, valid causes of action against the insurers of Worboys as providers of the compulsory motor insurance required by the Road Traffic Act 1988".
It was the case for the women that "upon the claimants obtaining judgment against Worboys, the insurers will be liable to pay the judgment sums".
The judge said: "It is clear that the fact of the location of the offences of administering the sedatives and of committing or attempting the sexual assaults occurred in Worboys' taxi, but that is not conclusive or by itself of any real potency.
"The injuries of the claimants were caused by the criminal acts of Worboys in administering sedatives and then in attempting to or actually assaulting the claimants.
"They did not arise out of the use of the taxi on a road."
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