Court of Appeal cuts ‘disproportionate’ personal injuries award

Judge criticises failure of High Court and legal teams in regard to personal injury guidelines

Mr Justice Noonan ruled the High Court’s award of €99,162 at full liability should be cut to €59,162. Applying a 15 per cent discount for contributory negligence, the appeal court’s net award came to €50,287.

The Court of Appeal has slashed a damages award after finding it was “so disproportionate as to amount to an error of law”.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said the award was “further erroneous” as the High Court judge failed to have regard to the personal injury guidelines in his oral judgment, a move required by legislation.

It was “noteworthy” that neither legal team in the case referred to the guidelines during the hearing and provided “absolutely no assistance” on how to approach assessing damages for the plaintiff’s injuries, the judge added.

The guidelines were introduced in 2019 in a bid to standardise awards for common injuries.


Mr Justice Noonan, supported by two colleagues, ruled that the High Court’s award of €99,162 at full liability should be cut to €59,162. Applying a 15 per cent discount for contributory negligence, the appeal court’s net award came to €50,287.

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The sum was awarded to Courtney Collins for injuries sustained in a “terrifying” car crash in March 2019, when she was 15. She and three schoolfriends were passengers in the car driven by Steffan Parm, said Mr Justice Noonan. The vehicle was travelling at “excessive speed” at a road bend and lost control, hit a tree and rolled into a field, the judge said.

The judge said Ms Collins, with an address in Clonmore, Hacketstown, Co Carlow, described a chaotic and “extremely frightening” scene. The car windows were smashed and her friends were lying in the field after being ejected from the vehicle. One was screaming in pain.

Her case was against Mr Parm, Anneli Parm and Toomas Parm, who were described as the owners of the vehicle.

They, under the care of AXA Insurance DAC, admitted partial liability subject to a plea of contributory negligence on the part of Ms Collins, who had not been wearing a seat belt. The High Court’s Mr Justice Cian Ferriter found she was 15 per cent liable for her injuries.

Ms Collins alleged she continued to have neck and back pain that had not improved despite treatment. She wanted to do dog grooming but felt physically unable. After scans, she said, doctors said she had a congenital spinal condition.

She had other physical injuries and developed depression that affected her motivation to attend school or work, she claimed.

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The High Court judge identified that her dominant injury was psychiatric and that her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had upended almost every aspect of her life for many months, although the position has improved.

He awarded €55,000 general damages for this and an “uplift” of €40,000 for her other injuries.

The defendants appealed the High Court award, arguing it was excessive, inadequately explained and a departure from the 2019 guidelines.

Ruling on the appeal on Thursday, Mr Justice Noonan said it was “somewhat ironic” that the defendants complained the judge had no regard to the guidelines, when they themselves did not refer to them or to comparative cases.

The fact the High Court judge referred to the concept of a “dominant injury” and “uplift” suggests he had at least a broad awareness of the 2019 guidelines and how these should be applied.

Assessing the value of Ms Collins’s psychiatric injuries, Mr Justice Noonan noted the defendants conceded it could be valued at up to €35,000. Therefore, this should stand.

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He found that her spinal injury should be categorised as a minor back injury carrying a €15,000 award. He valued damage to one of her front teeth at €5,000, her “mild” tinnitus at €3,000, two small scars on her arm at €5,000, and swelling in her head, which subsided after two weeks, at €2,000.

Her non-dominant injuries should be subject to a one-third discount to fairly reflect their temporal overlap, he said. This brought total general damages to €55,000, which was to be added to €4,162 in agreed special damages.

Factoring in 15 per cent contributory negligence, the net award was €50,287.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is High Court Reporter with The Irish Times