Flowers v Centro Medico. Brussels Ia’s insurance issues stayed pending CJEU authority, and disputable conclusions on the consumer section.

Flowers & Ors v Centro Medico Salus Baleares SL & Anor [2021] EWHC 2437 (QB) is a case packed with jurisdictional complication under Brussels Ia. In early February 2020, Mrs Yvonne Flowers, then 67 years of age, was admitted on an emergency basis to a private hospital facility in Benidorm, Spain, with significant back discomfort and pain arising from spinal disc herniation. Nine days later she died in the same hospital from multiple organ failure having contracted sepsis. T

The principal issues at stake concern the level of proof required for a jurisdictional challenge; determination of domicile; the existence of a consumer contract and who can all avail themselves of the consequential jurisdictional rules; and when a matter ‘relates to’ insurance’.

Starting with the latter, Wood J stayed judgment on much of the issues until the CJEU will have ruled in C-708/20 Betty Tattersall,  on which James Beeton reports here and which engages similar issues as CJEU Cole, settled before judgment, and Hutchinson. Betty Tattersall will be a crucial judgment.

The level of proof for jurisdictional challenges was discussed at an extraordinary length in Brownlie, and the SC’s ruling is applied here as detailed in the judgment.

The claimants’ domicile is not ordinarily relevant under BIa but it is for the consumer and insurance title and its determination is subject to national law. Seeing as the judge finds a good arguable case that domicile is indeed established in England, no consideration of Spanish domicile rules is necessary.

The ‘newer’ elements of the case are first of all the existence of a consumer contract. There are 3 issues [67]: (i) Was there a contract between the late Mrs Flowers and Centro Medico? (ii) If there was, was it a consumer contract within the meaning of section 4 BIa? (iii) Does the Claimant’s claim against Centro Medico fall outside the scope of the consumer contracts section because it has not been brought by the “consumer” within the meaning of the section?

Ia Committeri is relied on and the judge has little hesitation [115] to find the existence of a contract. (Much about that has been written in German scholarship in the specific area of medical services).

Surprisingly though, the question whether there is a contract which meets with the A17 requirements is brushed over when it comes to the question whether the hospital directs its activities to England and Wales, which the court established as the relevant  domicile. Particularly in the context of emergency care, this does not seem to be a given.

The judge does enquire as to whether the claim which can no longer be pursued because the contracting (and thus weaker) party is now deceased, can be picked up by heirs in the same jurisdictional gateway and pursued on the basis of the domicile of either the deceased or the heirs. Schrems and KABEG are discussed, however unlike the first instance judge in Bonnie Lackey, Justice Wood [126] adopts a much less wide approach. There must be scope for a lot more discussion on this, for the scenario in Bonnie Lackey, of which I was critical, is quite different from that of the heirs who step in the  litigation shoes of the deceased.

Geert.

EU Private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, big chunks of Chapter 2.