The High Court has approved a €60,000 damages assessment for a child even though his mother asked the judge to reject the amount as being too low.
Mr Justice Garrett Simons said the woman had asked the court to refuse to approve the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Piab) assessment, rather than reject it herself, in an attempt to avoid adverse legal costs that could arise if her son recovered a lesser sum following a trial.
The judge found it was in the child’s best interests to accept the amount as he would be unlikely to achieve more than €60,000 by bringing court proceedings and there was a “real risk” he would recover less than that sum through that route.
The boy, who cannot be named due to a court order, suing through his mother, claimed he received multiple lacerations to his face in a car crash in December 2019. He had allegedly been in a booster seat but had managed to unfasten his seatbelt in the moments before the collision to retrieve a drink that had dropped into the footwell, the judge said.
Piab’s 2021 assessment identified “facial disfigurement” as the child’s dominant injury and characterised it as “severe”. It assessed general damages for pain and suffering at €60,000.
The boy’s lawyers complained that Piab did not apply any “uplift” to the award for the boy’s alleged psychological injury. They argued that his psychological injury should have been assessed at least at €20,000.
Mr Justice Simons said it was his job to assess whether Piab’s assessment should be accepted on behalf of the child or whether the claim for personal injuries should be pursued by way of legal proceedings. This required him to compare the Piab assessment with the hypothetical outcome of a court trial.
The facial scarring was visible at conversational distance but the disfigurement is not substantial, Mr Justice Simons said. It falls into the category of “serious scarring” and he would place it at €45,000.
An up-to-date psychiatric assessment report indicates the child’s anxieties fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for an adjustment disorder following the incident, but his anxiety no longer fulfils criteria for a clinical disorder.
There was a “seeming conflict” in the medical evidence in the case, as an earlier 2021 report said the boy had post-traumatic stress disorder arising out of the incident. The judge said it was “very difficult to reconcile the diagnosis” with the actual symptoms recited in that report.
“The injured child is recorded as having no current impairment of academic functioning nor in recreational functioning. His sleep disturbance is characterised as ‘mild’,” the judge said.
Mr Justice Simons said a trial judge is likely to attach more significance to the report from this year due to it being more recent and more comprehensive. Therefore, a trial judge is likely to characterise the case as falling within the category of “minor psychiatric damage”. The injury could not reasonably attract more than €15,000, said Mr Justice Simons.
The judge approved the assessment. He directed that the legal costs incurred by the child’s mother for the approval application shall be borne by Piab.