Over the last 48 hours news has broken that the European Commission Competition Directorate (DG 1V) has targeted insurance companies providing motor insurance in Ireland.
The raids conducted by the Commission are part of a wider investigation into allegations of price fixing between the insurance companies. Price fixing is outlawed in Irish and European Competition Law. Competitors are not permitted to arrange between themselves for the setting of prices. The open market is supposed to dictate the value of products and services under Irish and European Competition Law. Any attempt by competitors to fix the prices or terms and conditions of sale between them this is illegal.
For many years now Irish motorists have complained about the increases in motor insurance premiums. The insurance providers respond by blaming solicitors and high legal costs incurred in claims. This has not stood up to scrutiny however as the cost of claims has fallen, the costs paid to solicitors for bringing claims on behalf of successful claimants has also fallen substantially whilst insurance premiums have increased.
The Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission have undertaken a general investigation into the car insurance market for some time. This investigation has not made significant progress.
The fact that the larger European Commission Director General for Competition which is responsible for the policing of competitive markets throughout the European Union is now involved is a very significant development. Recently the DG IV has imposed record fines for the price fixing by truck manufacturers to the cost of rigid and artic trucks spanning a period of 14 years.
We, at O’Dwyer Solicitors, are involved in the first set of claims being brought by truck owners affected by this price fixing cartel. The basis upon which those truck owners can pursue an action against the manufacturers who overcharged them is due to the work of DG IV.
The dawn raids carried out by DG IV officials have come as a surprise to the Irish car insurance providers. DG IV officials have powers to arrive at the offices of car insurance providers and inspect, copy and seize information which may establish or prove the existence of cooperation between competitors to the detriment of consumers. This means that if there is any coordination between motor car insurers, the effect of which is to fix prices or the conditions upon which car insurance is provided, then this is potentially unlawful.
DG IV is also the body that was responsible for investigating the Irish government for their State aid assistance to Apple. It was widely reported in that particular investigation Apple was directed to reimburse the Irish government 13 billion euro for acting in an anti-competitive manner.
If it is the case that the European Commission and/or the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission establish that there is price fixing which has increased the amount paid by car owners for motor policies then this is something which ultimately may be recovered by way of claims against those insurance companies.
This is similar to the types of claims which we here at O’Dwyer Solicitors are currently bringing on behalf of truck owners.
We have already begun assisting motor policy holders who are adversely affected by the increase of insurance premiums. There are very few motor car policy owners who are not affected by an increase in their insurance. For each and every one of those people involved or who feel that they may have been overcharged then there are avenues of recourse for which we can provide advice.
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