I want my money
Court awards $34m to accident victim but collecting is proving challenging
Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
A Jamaican man who was seriously injured in a motor-vehicle accident 13 years ago has been awarded $34 million in damages but is facing serious challenges to collect the money.
It appears the owners of the vehicle do not have the money to pay and the Supreme Court has ruled that the company which insured the vehicle is not liable to pay.
The lengthy delay in the payment has led to an appeal by attorney-at-law Marvalyn Taylor-Wright for the Government to ensure that legislation is in place to protect persons who make claims under the Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third Party Risks) Act.
The case involves Mecheck Willis, who sued Patrick and Yvonne Flynn, owners of the motor vehicle, for negligence and was successful in getting a Supreme Court $34-million award against the couple.
The Flynns' motor car was being driven by 16-year-old Devar McFarlane along the Phoenix Main Road, St Ann, on January 27, 2001, when it collided with a motor car driven by Willis.
McFarlane died as a result of the accident and Willis, a 40-odd-year-old higgler, suffered injuries to his legs and has not been able to work since then.
Willis also sued Globe Insurance Company, the insurers of the Flynns' motor vehicle.
But Globe denied indemnity to the policyholders and stated in a letter dated July 25, 2011, that, "at the time of accident, the driver of the policyholder's vehicle did not have a driver's licence, and was not authorised or permitted to drive the vehicle".
In response to Globe's stance, Willis took the matter to the Supreme Court asking for a determination as to whether Globe was liable to him under the Motor Vehicle Insurance (Third Risks) Act in respect of the $34-million award.
Globe, which was represented by attorney-at-law David Johnson, filed a defence that the driver was 16 years old at the time of the accident, was not the holder of a valid driver's licence and was, therefore, not permitted under the law to drive or operate the vehicle.
Globe also exhibited McFarlane's birth certificate and a letter from the Tax Administration Department which stated that McFarlane did not have a Tax Registration Number, which he would have had to obtain to be the holder of a valid driver's licence.
Supreme Court Judge Ingrid Mangatal heard the matter in May and last week agreed that McFarlane "was not a person that the laws of Jamaica permitted to drive on the roads of Jamaica at the material time".
In ruling that Globe was not liable to pay Willis, the judge pointed out that the policy provided coverage for the policyholders or persons driving the motor vehicle but there was an important caveat which stated: "provided that the person driving is permitted with the licensing or any other laws or regulations to drive the motor vehicle".
The judge ruled that McFarlane was not a person so insured and Globe was not obliged to provide indemnity in respect of the judgment against the Flynns.
But Taylor-Wright says Willis is taking the issue to the Court of Appeal because no contract defence should be available to an insurer in circumstances where a third-party victim has obtained a judgment against an insured who had a valid policy of insurance at the time of the accident.