Darren Bent + Aston Martin DB9 + Insurers = An Interesting Court of Appeal Case
Footballers, fast cars, financial disputes; the case of Darren Bent and his credit hire legal wrangle has all the ingredients normally present in stories Bent and his Premiership colleagues are accustomed to providing the tabloids. But this case is altogether more complex than the usual footballer scandals.
During a spell playing for Tottenham Hotspur, Bent was involved in a minor road traffic accident; a van came out of a side road and hit his car. A very straightforward kind of accident, similar to many cases that JMW handles on a regular basis. All the evidence showed that the van driver was at fault and had damaged Bent's car to an extent that the car needed to be repaired. During the repair period, Bent hired a replacement vehicle through Accident Exchange, a credit hire company, with the cost of hire ultimately being presented to the defendant's insurance company for recovery.
Bent's car at the time was a Mercedes AMG CLS 63R, a pretty rare car, and as he was entitled to hire a vehicle of equivalent value and prestige, he was placed in an Aston Martin DB9, on credit hire terms from Accident Exchange. He had the car for 94 days, however, the total cost of hire, £63,406.90, was disputed by Allianz, the defendant's insurers. They claimed that the cost of hire was far too much for a car of that calibre and that he should have rung round local hire car companies and obtained the cheapest quote for an equivalent car. The case was pushed through to court in 2009.
Because Allianz had already issued an interim payment of £38,618.76, the rest of the hire cost was the sum of money in dispute; £24,788.14 and although it was ruled that Bent had acted reasonably when hiring his car and the judge awarded the rest of the balance to him, Allianz disputed the judgement, taking the case to the Court of Appeal in February this year. This time, the court sided with the insurers, and Bent was left with a £20k shortfall. Bent and the team at Accident Exchange disputed the judgement, and found themselves back in the Court of Appeal a few weeks ago, where the February ruling was overturned and the court found in favour of Bent.
The reason for a volley worthy of one of the top flight footballer's matches primarily came down to the lack of clarity on what was classed as a "spot hire rate”, the ambiguity on the term itself, what rate it was appropriate for Bent to have hired the DB9 at and whether Bent and his team had appropriately mitigated the hire costs. The judgement for Bent to receive his outlay on the DB9 back is the correct one.
To deal with these concerns, firstly, it should always be the defendant's insurers that pay the reasonable costs of any credit hire, regardless of how much it is. Claimant solicitors will work in conjunction with credit hire companies to ensure that the rates at which the car is hired to a claimant are appropriate to the length of time they will require the car for; an argument in the Bent case was that he took on the 7 day hire rate, when the 28 day hire rate would have been more appropriate, as he knew at the time that the repairs to his vehicle would take much longer than 28 days. Although this point garnered a great deal of discussion, particularly when the original judge had 'spot hire rate' data from 2009, when the period of hire was in 2007 (and therefore, rates would likely be different), and questions were asked as to whether the 28 day hire rate discount should be applied to the agreed 7 day hire rate on which the car had been taken out, this was decided against, on the grounds that the decisions taken by Bent and his team were appropriate ones, i.e. that the decision did mitigate the loses he'd incur.
Thanks to this case, the term of "spot hire rate” has been declared too confusing, and it has been suggested that it be replaced with the term "basic hire rate”, to avoid ambiguity in the future.
It should also be noted that the Bent case was backed by a lot of precedents; three House of Lords and one Court of Appeal decision have established certain principles concerning the basis on which a claimant can recover damages for car hire costs when they are the innocent victim of an RTA ,and what sums can be recovered as damages or otherwise. While to most of us, these figures sound eye-wateringly expensive just for hiring a car, and there are those of us that would assume the £20k shortfall would not bother Bent's wallet too much, these principles are of great importance to the majority of motorists, as we may well find ourselves in a similar position; the innocent victim of an RTA, needing to hire a car to conduct our daily lives, and judgements that find in favour of the claimant are precisely the kind of precedent-setting we need.