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Upcoming rule changes in personal injury claims arising from accidents on a ship

The Civil Procedure Rules relating to which court a claim should be brought in relating to accidents arising on a ship will be changed as of 6 April. 

The present practice

At present, CPR 61.2(1)(a) states:

"The following claims must be started in the Admiralty Court –

(a) a claim –

(b) for loss of life or personal injury specified in section 20(2)(f) of the Senior Courts Act 1981."

Section 20(2)(f) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 states: 

"Any claim for loss of life or personal injury sustained in consequence of any defect in a ship or in her apparel or equipment, or in the consequence of the wrongful act, neglect or default of:

i. the owners, charterers or persons in possession or control of a ship; or

ii. the master or crew of the ship, or any other person for whose wrongful acts, neglects or defaults the owners, charterers or persons in possession or control of a ship are responsible being an act, neglect of default in the navigation or management of a ship, in the loading, carriage or discharge of goods on, in or from the ship, or in the embarkation, carriage or disembarkation of persons on, in or from the ship."

This resulted in practically any claim which resulted in injury on a ship having to be brought within the Admiralty Court rather than the usual County Court or High Court claims process. It included simply trip and slips on cruise ships or ferries, which did not necessarily require the particular maritime expertise which specialist Masters within the Admiralty Court require. 

What the changes are

The CPR Committee has now decided to remove CPR 61.2(1)(a)(v) and amend 61.2(2), in what it calls a "a suite of amendments, to 

(i) provide that personal injury claims which do not require the expertise of the Admiralty Court may be issued in the County Court and 

(ii) to update the rules in line with modern practice and with the intention to ensure early disclosure, improved particularisation of statements of case and thus enhancing the ability of the court and the parties to identify the issues in a collision action at an early stage, and to manage the case appropriately.  

The CPR will now state: "Any other admiralty claim may be started in the Admiralty Court and a claim for loss of life or personal injury specified in Section 20(2)(f) of the Senior Courts Act 1981 should be started in the Admiralty Court in the circumstances set out in Practice Direction 61’."

Practice Direction 61 sets out the amended rules relating to the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court in 2.6 to 2.8. Paragraph 2.6, for instance, states that if the injury or fatal accident claim is made in rem (against the ship) or arises out of a collision, it must still be commenced in the Admiralty Court. 

Paragraph 2.7confirms that if a claim for personal injury is commenced in the High Court, then it may be commenced in the Admiralty Court or that such claims may also be commenced in the County Court. 

Paragraph 2.8 subsequently clarifies this by stating: "Claims within paragraph 2.7 should not be commenced in the Admiralty Court unless they require or would benefit from the specialist knowledge and experience of that court. That is likely to include personal injury claims which:

(a) involve questions of navigation, seamanship, boat or ship-handling skills and/or acts or omissions relating to sea state; 

(b) arise out of the shipwreck, capsizing or stranding of the ship, or explosion or fire in the ship; 

(c) are employer’s liability claims relating to or concerning equipment or working practices peculiar to a ship; 

(d) raise difficult or novel questions of private international law or of the interpretation of the Athens Convention.

Other personal injury claims not raising any such issues should ordinarily be commenced in the County Court or the Central Office or the Kings Bench Division of the High Court."

Paragraph 2.9 states that if a claim is issued in the Admiralty Court, it can still be transferred, if appropriate to do so (on the grounds of efficiency or proportionality), on the application of any party or of the court’s own motion, to another court. The County Court in turn has power to transfer appropriate cases up to the Admiralty Court. 

What the update means

This update should hopefully prevent any opportunistic (and expensive) attempts by defendants to claim the proceedings were wrongly brought and are a nullity - such attempts to dispute jurisdiction are occasionally fielded and obviously increase costs significantly. 

It also provides all tiers of courts with the flexibility to move cases where they best fit and are best placed in terms of specialist expertise. However, personal injury practitioners should still note that limitation issues remain the same, so if the injury is due to a ship collision or as a paying passenger under the Athens Convention then the 2 year UN Convention limitation still applies even if you are not issuing in the Admiralty Court.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people following serious injury at our dedicated serious injury section