The UK formally left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2021, after being a member since 1973 and a large amount of UK law has come from the EU over those 47 years.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 dictates that the law as it stood at midnight on 31 December 2020 remains but any future EU law will not apply to the UK.
Under the Act government ministers can amend the retained EU law using Brexit Regulations without the need for a full Act of Parliament.
Since Brexit the two main amendments to retained EU law that have affected personal injury are in the areas of rail travel and product liability.
The compensation available to rail passengers within the EU under the Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations Regulation regarding personal injury, lost luggage, delays, cancellations and mobility assistance has now been restricted to train journeys within the UK only.
Under amendments to the Consumer Protection Act 1987, using Brexit Regulations, the scope of who is considered an importer has changed. Previously, an importer was defined as someone importing a product into the EU; since 1 January 2021 an importer is defined as someone importing a product into the UK.
Companies importing goods into the UK from the EU face an additional potential liability for claims by those injured by a defective product. It is now possible to sue the distributor of those products within UK courts and the service of court papers is easier.
If there are concerns over the EU seller’s ability to pay the damages claimed, then the UK distributor may be an attractive alternative.
The Brexit Regulation change providing the UK consumer an additional avenue against a UK distributor has the concomitant effect of reducing the UK consumer’s ability to sue a company based in the EU.
As we move further away from the Brexit date it seems inevitable that there will be a greater difference between the laws in the UK and those in the EU. The rights of UK citizens with regard to personal injury within the EU and against EU companies may decrease. In addition, the EU has long regarded itself as a champion of consumer protection and whether the UK government will maintain the same commitment is as yet uncertain.
ADAM LLOYD, SENIOR ASSOCIATE SOLICITOR IN THE PERSONAL INJURY DEPARTMENT