Judge calls for end to delays on serious injury cases
A HIGH Court judge has said catastrophic injury cases before the High Court cannot be delayed any longer in the hope the Government will introduce legislation to allow for annual payments to the injured instead of lump-sum awards.
Ms Justice Mary Irvine said a High Court working group had recommended 3½ years ago that the legislation be introduced, but nothing had been done and there was no indication that any legislation was forthcoming.
The delay was leading to substantial suffering and had made it very difficult for those involved in such cases, she said. “I am not going to extend the hardship any further.” Her view was shared by the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, she added.
Ms Justice Irvine made the remarks yesterday when dealing with cases involving catastrophic injuries which were put on hold from up to two years ago in anticipation of legislation.
When considering whether to adjourn for another year a case which settled in 2010 in anticipation that periodic payments would be legislated for, the judge said she would not adjourn the case any further as the Government had not brought forward legislation, nor was there any guarantee it would be forthcoming.
Ireland is behind the common law world in dealing with catastrophic injury cases, she said, noting that periodic payments schemes were in place in the UK, the US and other countries.
The award of a lump sum in such cases had been recognised internationally for many years as a system that could not provide justice for all parties, she added.
While an award was usually assessed on life expectancy of the plaintiff, that, “barring a miracle”, was very difficult to assess accurately, the judge said.
If life expectancy was wrongly estimated, the person could run out of money, but if there was an overestimation of life expectancy the family could have an unexpected windfall of several million at a cost to the taxpayer, the judge said.
That had happened recently when a person awarded a lump sum relating to catastrophic injuries died within a couple of months, she said.
A working group on periodic payment orders, set up by the President of the High Court 3½ years ago, reported unanimously in October 2010 that legislation was required to allow cases be settled on the basis of periodic payments, the judge noted, adding that nothing had been done to implement the legislation.
Among the cases affected is that of a severely disabled 22-year-old woman who last year settled an action over injuries suffered after she allegedly contracted a rare brain disease, most probably from a parrot in a pet store.
The structured settlement agreed for Patricia Ingle, Weston, Limerick, who is paralysed, was intended to cover her lifetime care and involved an interim payment of more than €3 million, with further payments to follow under a structured agreement that would require passage of legislation for periodic payment orders.