Courts report 15% increase in personal injury claims last year

Concerns surrounding insurance industry and rising premiums likely to heighten

Minister of State Michael D’Arcy:  expressed concern last month that claimants had a propensity to go to the courts due to a perception that higher awards can be won. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister of State Michael D’Arcy: expressed concern last month that claimants had a propensity to go to the courts due to a perception that higher awards can be won. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The number of personal injury claims before the courts last year jumped 15 per cent, which is likely to heighten concerns surrounding the insurance industry and rising premiums.

The Courts Service’s annual report for 2016, which was published on Tuesday, also shows that claims before the High Court, where the largest awards can be made, rose by 18 per cent. The biggest award made in the year totalled €9 million.

Personal injury claims are dealt with by the Injuries Board, but claimants are still permitted to access the courts at the end of that process in the event they are unsatisfied with the board’s award.

Michael D’Arcy, Minister of State with responsibility for the insurance sector, expressed concern upon his appointment last month that claimants have a propensity to go to the courts due to a perception that higher awards can be won.

Despite the rise in claims, the Courts Service’s annual report shows the total value of damages awarded by the legal system fell, due to a significant drop at the High Court, despite rises at the District Court and the Circuit Court levels.

Overall, there were 21,898 personal injury suits filed last year, which represents a 15 per cent increase on the 18,992 in 2015.

The High Court, which has unlimited power to award damages, dealt with 8,510 cases, including 1,001 related to medical negligence. That represented an 18 per cent increase on the 7,219 in 2015.

It awarded damages up to €60,000 in 146 cases compared with 192 in 2015. Some 158 cases led to awards between €60,000 and €199,999, compared with 179 in 2015. There were 36 awards in the €200,000-€499,999 range, which was down from 48 in 2015.

There were 50 awards that exceeded €500,000, the same number as 2015. In total, there were 390 awards made, down from 469.

The highest award in the State was €9 million, which was down from €13.5 million in 2015. The total amount awarded by the High Court was €147.1 million, down from €168.1 million in 2015.

In the Circuit Court, where there is a €60,000 cap on awards, there were 12,230 cases, which was a 15 per cent increase on the 10,631 in 2015.

Five awards

The Circuit Court awarded damages up to €15,000 in 398 cases, which was down from 460 the year before. Some 574 awards were in the €15,000-€60,000 range compared with 546 in 2015. There were five awards of €60,000, which was one less than the year before.

The total number of awards there was 977 compared with 1,012 in 2015. The highest award was €206,810, which was up from €90,000 in 2015. The court can exceed its cap in the event of agreement from both parties. The total amount awarded was €17.3 million, up from €16.6 million in 2015.

At the District Court, where the cap is €15,000, there were 1,158 cases dealt with, which represented a negligible increase on 2015.

Judges there granted 282 awards up to €7,500, compared with 286 in 2015. In terms of the €7,500-€15,000 bracket, there were 248 awards compared with 211 in 2015, while there were five awards of €15,000, up from four.

There were 535 awards made by judges compared with 501 the year before. The total amount awarded by the District Court was just over €4 million, which was up from €3.5 million in 2015.

The figures from the Courts Service can be compared with the Injuries Board, where 9 per cent of awards last year related to sums of less than €10,000, while 79 per cent were under €30,000 in value.

The average award by the Injuries Board was €24,305, while the highest award was €740,968.