High Court rejects lead challenge over new guidelines slashing awards for minor injuries

Level of damages a matter ‘for society in general’ not just plaintiffs and defendants, judge says

The lead case challenging the constitutionality of the law under which new guidelines slashing awards for minor personal injuries by up to 50 per cent came into effect has been dismissed by the High Court.

In rejecting the challenge on all grounds on Thursday, Mr Justice Charles Meenan said the “well established” principles for the award of general damages make clear that the level of damages are not just a matter between a plaintiff and defendant “but also for society in general”.

“Economic, social and commercial conditions have to be taken into account in fixing levels of awards.”.

The outcome of the case by Bridget Delaney, from Dungarvan, Co Waterford, against the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, the Judicial Council and the State was being closely watched because of the potentially huge implications.


Given the high stakes, the High Court judgment is almost certain to be appealed. Several other cases over the guidelines remain on hold.

The guidelines, drafted by a committee of the Judicial Council and approved by an 83/63 majority of judges in March 2021, came into effect from April 24th 2021 and apply to claims authorised by the PIAB after that date. Earlier cases will be assessed under the Book of Quantum (BOQ), which provided for higher awards.

Ms Delaney claimed she suffered an undisplaced ankle fracture after she tripped and fell at a public footpath at Pinewood Estate, Dungarvan, on April 12th, 2019. She claimed she required medical treatment, physiotherapy and was in a walker boot for four weeks as a result of alleged negligence of Waterford City Council.

She disputed PIAB’s assessment of €3,000 general damages under the guidelines and argued her claim should have been assessed at between €18,000-€34,000 under the Book of Quantum.

Her claims against the Judicial Council included its personal injuries guidelines committee (PIGC) erred in considering one of its functions was to reduce damages.

Against the State, she claimed the Judicial Council Act 2019 is unconstitutional for reasons including it involves an impermissible invasion by the legislature of judicial power. The reduced award under the guidelines breached her constitutional rights, including to bodily integrity and property, she claimed.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Meenan said the 2019 Act clearly sets out the principles and policies that were to be applied and followed by the PIGC in drawing up the guidelines.

The PIGC “methodically” followed those principles and policies and took expert advice, both economic and legal, as was provided for.

The reduction of the awards in the guidelines was a result of the committee applying the provisions of the 2019 Act, “as it was obliged to do”.

The committee was entitled to fix levels of awards having regard to the level of awards in other jurisdictions, he said. That was provided for both by the Act and by decisions of the Supreme Court.

Judicial independence, together with expertise and experience in the awarding of damages, meant the judiciary was an appropriate body to draft and adopt the guidelines.

Ms Delaney’s constitutional rights of property, bodily integrity and equality do not encompass a right to a particular sum of damages but, rather, a right to have her damages assessed in accordance with well-established legal principles.

In assessing her claim, PIAB acted in accordance with the relevant provisions of the PIAB Act 2003, he ruled. The delay in having her claim assessed was as a result of her X-rays, which the Board sought in December 2020, not being forwarded until April 13th, 2021. It was then appropriate for the board to seek an addition to the medical report from its expert. That was provided on April 24th 2021, the day the guidelines came into effect. The assessors were then entitled to time to consider their assessment which was provided on May 13th, 2021.

Concluding Ms Delaney was not entitled to any of the reliefs sought, the judge adjourned costs and other issues to June 30th.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times