Abuse case to go ahead after Supreme Court ruling on personal injuries Act

Judge says law governing civil cases ‘complex, confusing and poorly aligned’

Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell: personal injury damages cases have been the “staple diet” of civil courts at all levels in 
Ireland for more than a century. Photograph: Collins Courts

Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell: personal injury damages cases have been the “staple diet” of civil courts at all levels in Ireland for more than a century. Photograph: Collins Courts

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 01:00

A Supreme Court ruling relating to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act means a woman who has sued her brother for damages over allegedly sexually abusing her when she was a child can proceed with her case.

Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell, giving the five-judge court’s ruling, said personal injury damages cases had been the “staple diet” of civil courts at all levels in Ireland for more than a century, with most such cases turning on an assessment of contested facts and the inferences to be drawn from them.

In the circumstances, it was surprising the statute law governing the initiation and processing of such litigation was “complex, confusing and poorly aligned”, he said.

Stay on dismissal

In the woman’s case, the High Court accepted arguments on behalf of her brother that, because she had not first applied to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and secured authorisation from it to bring the litigation, the case must be dismissed. A stay on the dismissal applied, pending the outcome of the woman’s appeal to the Supreme Court.

Granting the appeal, Mr Justice O’Donnell noted the woman, in proceedings initiated in 2010, alleged she was assaulted and sexually abused by her brother in the 1970s when she was between eight and 15. It was alleged she was subjected to repeated and sustained acts of sexual assault, battery and trespass to the person in the family home and was under the dominion of her brother.

The defendant denied the claims and pleaded the case was brought outside the relevant legal time limits.

When the case came for hearing before a High Court judge and jury, counsel for the brother applied to have it struck out.