Figures released on Thursday by the Courts Service indicate that the changes introduced to personal injury award levels in April 2021 are having a marked effect on the number of claims being brought to court, and the awards being handed down when cases go all the way to judgment.
The downward trend in award levels is likely to be reflected in the outcomes of cases that are settled without going to court, or that settle after litigation is filed but before the case reaches the point of the judge making a ruling.
Because of the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic to court sittings, the Courts Service compared the 2022 data it published on Thursday to 2019. In terms of new personal injury cases lodged, there was a 43 per cent decline in new cases last year as compared with 2019. That is a substantial reduction by any measure.
The value of the awards handed down last year by the Circuit Court, where there is a threshold of €60,000 in awards arising from personal injury actions, was only 58 per cent of those awarded by the court in 2019.
The reduction, according to the Courts Service, highlights the changes brought about by the new award guidelines introduced by the Judicial Council, which were targeted at reducing awards for minor to moderate injuries.
To date, there have been modest decreases in motor insurance, primarily due to increased competition... and nothing beyond the anecdotal in the areas of employer and public liability cover— Spokesman for the Alliance for Insurance Reform
A spokesman for the Alliance for Insurance Reform, which represents not just business but also sporting organisations and others hit by high premiums, welcomed the latest data from the Courts Service, but compared it critically with what he said was a lack of movement on reducing premiums.
“Such a substantial drop in the volume of claims and in awards should tie directly to a reduction in insurance premiums for motorists, businesses and sporting and community groups, and it is incumbent upon the Government to ensure that this is the case,” the spokesman said.
“To date, there have been modest decreases in motor insurance, primarily due to increased competition (these reductions were of the order of 5-10 per cent and appear to have stalled) and nothing beyond the anecdotal in the areas of employer and public liability cover.”
‘No more excuses’
The spokesman said the Government must use the “compelling” new data to put pressure on the insurance companies. “There really are no more excuses for not passing on meaningful savings to policy holders.”
A spokeswoman for Insurance Ireland, which represents the insurance industry, said it was restricted from commenting on pricing matters for fear that it would be seen to be in breach of competition law.
We see, day in, day out, persons with a variety of injuries having the indignity of being offended with totally inadequate awards for the pain, suffering and losses they have suffered— Jody Cantillion of Cantillion solicitors
Jody Cantillon, a litigation partner with Cantillon solicitors in Cork, said the Judicial Council guidelines were working in so far as they were reducing award levels, but this was leading to increased profits for insurance companies rather than reduced premiums for consumers.
The new award levels are inadequate, he said. “We see, day in, day out, persons with a variety of injuries having the indignity of being offended with totally inadequate awards for the pain, suffering and losses they have suffered. It is most unfortunate that there is no lobby to speak up for those injured.”
The agenda, he said, has been set by those who are responsible for the injuries, and he cited drunk drivers, irresponsible employers, insurers and the State. “One would have expected that some TDs might speak up for the injured persons. Sadly not.”
Senior counsel Eddie Walsh, who specialises in personal injuries litigation, said it was his experience that the new guidelines were contributing to a reluctance among plaintiffs to go to court.
He said he was surprised more cases were not being heard in the Circuit Court and suspected some “middle-class, respectable” litigants who felt they were not properly compensated, were not going to court because they feared they would be perceived as “milking the system”.
Prescribing one amount for a particular injury did not work because a finger injury, for example, could have greater implications for a carpenter than someone else.
“It is important that real injuries get real money,” he said, adding that he hoped the ongoing review of the operation of the guidelines by the Judicial Council would take that into account.