In Owen v Galgey & Ors  EWHC 3546 (QB), Linden J yesterday dealt with the application of Rome II’s common habitual residence exception to A4(1) lex loci damni rule, and with the general escape clause of A4(3).
These cases often involve tragic accidents and injuries and the sec conflict of laws analysis below in no way of course mean any disrespect to claimant and his loved ones.
Claimant is a British citizen who is domiciled and habitually resident in England. He brings a claim for damages for personal injury sustained by him as result of an accident in France (3 April 2018), when he fell into an empty swimming pool which was undergoing works at a villa in France, a holiday home owned by the First Defendant, whose wife is the Second Defendant. They are also British citizens who are domiciled and habitually resident in England, Third Defendant is a company domiciled in France, and the public liability insurer of the First and Second Defendants. Fourth Defendant is a contractor which was carrying out renovation works on the swimming pool at the time of the accident. Fifth Defendant is the public liability insurer of the Fourth Defendant. Fourth and Fifth Defendants are both companies which are domiciled in France.
That French law applies to the claims against Fourth and Fifth Defendant is undisputed. There is however a dispute as to the applicable law in relation to his claims against the First to Third Defendants. These Defendants contend that, by operation of A4(2) Rome II, English law applies because the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants are habitually resident in England. Claimant contends that French law applies by operation of A4(3) Rome II: the ‘manifestly more closely connected’ rule.
Textual argument suggest that on the basis of the text of Recital 18 and A4(2) itself, A4(2) only applies to two party cases and does not apply in multi-party cases. Linden J at 29 notes that this would also correspond with the narrow reading required of A4(2). However he follows of course the authority of Marshall, which I approved of at the time (if only because, if multi-party claims were outside the scope of A42(), it would suffice for either claimant artificially to add a defendant to the claim, or for a defendant similarly to manoeuvre in a second defendant, for A4(2) to become inoperable). A4(2) also applies if more than one party is involved.
On A4(3), then, Marshall, too, is authority and Winrow v Hemphill another rare case that seriously engaged with the issue. In the latter case, Slade J held that the balance was in favour of not applying the escape clause, particularly in view of the period of time of habitual residence in Germany, and subsequent continuing residence in that country (inter alia for follow-up treatment). In the former, Dingemans J did reach a conclusion of applying A4(3) hence lex causae being French law on the grounds I discuss in my post on the case. Here, Linden J discusses the various factors at issue in Winrow v Hemphill and in Marhsall and reaches a conclusion of French law:
In my view it is clear that the tort/delict in the present case is manifestly more closely connected with France. France is where the centre of gravity of the situation is located and the preponderance of factors clearly points to this conclusion. This conclusion also accords with the legitimate expectations of the parties.
The reasons for that are essentially listed at (75 ff)
The tort/delict occurred in France, as I have noted. This is also where the injury or direct damage occurred. The dispute centres on a property in France and it concerns structural features of that property and how the First, Second and Fourth Defendants dealt with works on a swimming pool there. Although these defendants deny that there was fault on the part of any of them, the First and Second Defendants say that the Fourth Defendant was responsible if the pool presented a danger and the Fourth Defendant says that they were. The allegations of contributory negligence/fault also centre on the Claimant’s conduct whilst at the Villa in France.
The First and Second Defendants also had a significant and long-standing connection to France, the accident occurred on their property and the works were carried out by a French company pursuant to a contract with them which is governed by French law. Their insurer, the Third Defendant, is a French company and they are insured under a contract which is governed by French law. The contract was to insure a property in France albeit one which, I accept, applied to claims under English and French law. It is also common ground that the claim against the Fourth Defendant, and therefore against the Fifth Defendant, also a French company, is entirely governed by French law and will require the court to decide whether the Fourth Defendant or, at least by implication, the First and Second Defendants were “custodians” of the property for the purposes of French law.
Whilst it cannot be said at this stage that, by analogy with Marshall, the accident was entirely caused by the Fourth Defendant in particular, the situation in relation to the swimming pool which is said to have been the cause of the accident was firmly rooted in France and it resulted from works which were being carried out by the Fourth Defendant as a result of it being contracted to do so by the First and Second Defendants. The liability of the First and Second Defendants, if any, will be affected by how they dealt with that situation, including by evidence about their dealings with the Fourth Defendant. That situation had no significant connections with England other than the nationality and habitual place of residence of the First and Second Defendants.
The core counterarguments which were dismissed, are (78 ff)
I take the point that the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants were habitually resident in England at the relevant time, that there was a pre-existing relationship between them, and that the Claimant and his family came to be at the Villa as a result of an agreement which was made in England. But, applying an objective test (see Chitty on Contract Volume 1 at paragraph 2-171 in particular), I am not satisfied that this agreement, on the information available at this stage, was contractual in nature. Part of the difficulty in relation to this aspect of the First to Third Defendants’ argument is that there is very little information before the court as to what precisely happened. Looking at the agreed facts in the context of the statements of case and the other materials which I have been shown, however, it appears that the agreement resulted from a casual conversation between social acquaintances in the context of mutual favours having been done in the past. It was informal in nature and it appears that the Claimant offered to do the work as a favour and the First and Second Defendant invited him and his family to the Villa to return that favour.
If I had found that there was a contract, I would also likely have found that it was governed by French law. Although it was entered into in England between British parties, it related entirely to a property in France. Performance of the contract on both sides could only be effected at a particular property in France and was very strongly connected to France in that it involved work on a villa there and a family holiday there. This and the other features of the case would have led me to conclude that [A4(3) Rome I] indicated that there was a manifestly closer connection between the contract and France, although I acknowledge that there is a degree of circularity in this approach. ….
Mr Doherty understandably emphasised that, even if there was no contract with the Claimant, the relationship and the agreement which led to the Claimant and his family being in France were based and made in England. I was also initially attracted by his argument that in effect the Claimant’s complaint is about the way in which the First and Second Defendants fulfilled their side of that agreement. But that is not the claim which he makes, and, in any event, their performance of the agreement was in the form of allowing the Claimant and his family to occupy a villa in France. Nor is this a case in which, for example, the injury occurred whilst the Claimant was carrying out work on the Villa and potential tortious and contractual duties (if the relationship was contractual) therefore arose directly out of the relationship between the parties.
To my mind the tort/delict in this case is much more closely connected to the state of the swimming pool which, as I have said, was part of a property in France and resulted from the French law contract between the First and Second Defendants and the Fourth Defendant. If any of the Defendants is liable, that liability will be closely connected with this contract. This point, taken in combination with the other points to which I have referred, in my view clearly outweighs the existence of any contract with the Claimant relating to the Villa, even if I had found there to be a contractual relationship and even if it was governed by English law.
Similarly, although I have taken into account the nationality and habitual place of residence of the Claimant and the First and Second Defendants, these do not seem to me to alter the conclusion to which I have come. I have also taken into account the fact that the consequences of the accident have to a significant extent been suffered by the Claimant whilst he was in England, but in my view the other factors to which I have referred clearly outweigh this consideration.
Of particular note for future direction on Rome II, is the discussion on existing pre-contractual relations.
This is of course a fact-specific and to a certain extent, discretionary assessment. I also agree there is no limit to the kinds and amount of factors which a judge may take into account when applying the A4(3) exception.
I am minded to disagree with the conclusion reached here, however. The judge’s assessment is one that echoes a proper law of the tort approach, starting from scratch. But that is not what A4(3) is about: it does not start from scratch; it starts from the clearly stated rule of A4(1) or A4(2), which require a lot of heavy lifting to be dislodged. The arguments pro upholding the A4(2) presumption listed in 78ff in my view give the finding for sustaining its consequence and hence English law as lex causae, strong foundations indeed which I believe, respectfully of course, the judge did not show enough deference to.
European Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, Heading 4.5.