New guidelines slashing awards for minor personal injuries are hurting low-income workers and giving a “green light” to exploitative employers, according to a solicitor specialising in personal injury claims.
Marcin Szulc, who employs 10 people in his Dublin-based firm, said the value of claims has been significantly reduced by the guidelines and do not allow for properly compensating many claimants, including those on low incomes.
Unless the guidelines are modified or scrapped, many people with minor injuries will simply not pursue claims, he predicted.
Although the guidelines were introduced following a long campaign by the insurance industry, he has not noticed any fall in his insurance costs since the guidelines came into operation a year ago, Mr Szulc added.
He was speaking to The Irish Times after the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Piab) published a report this week indicating its awards for minor injuries fell by 42 per cent from April 2021, when the guidelines came into operation, and December last.
In line with the requirements of the Judicial Council Act, the guidelines were drafted by a committee of the council, comprising all judges here, and adopted by a majority vote of the council in March 2021.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on Tuesday welcomed the publication and said the guidelines have had a “clear and significant cost-saving impact since their introduction”.
“What’s important now is that the consumer feels the benefit of these savings through reduced insurance costs,” she said.
“My department will continue to assess the impact of the guidelines to ensure that they are having the desired effect.”
Mr Szulc's Rostra Solicitors practice near Smithfield represents many low-income plaintiffs from an immigrant background, including meat packers and people working in retail, warehouses and the construction industry.
One client, a bin worker, suffered a back injury as a result of pushing a heavy four wheeled industrial bin up a ramp and was out of work for a month but only received an offer from the Piab of €8,000 general damages, he said. The man rejected the offer and is pursuing litigation.
That award contrasted with a €9,000 offer to another client who chipped two teeth after he bit into a wrap which contained stones, Mr Szulc said. That client attended the dentist twice and may have one more visit.
Both awards are in line with the guidelines, the solicitor said. “How do you compare those cases? It’s ridiculous.”
“I have a Piab assessment in front of me for €3,200 for a lower-back injury where the client was out of work for a month. What will I charge him? If I charge him in line with the section 150 letter I sent to him, the legal costs will be about 50 per cent of the award. “
In a statement, Insurance Ireland chief executive Moyagh Murdock described the reduction of Piab awards as "very welcome" but said the reduction in acceptances by claimants of the awards is "concerning". The acceptance rate in 2021 was "only 40 per cent overall and 36 per cent for motor claims which make up the majority of all claims" and the worry is that means more cases will go to litigation, she said.
For the success of insurance reform in Ireland and the credibility of the guidelines, it will be “essential that the cases are heard expeditiously and that the courts confirm the guidelines in their procedures”.
The Irish Small Medium Employers Association (Isme) said the lowering of awards here should be impacting public liability and employers' liability insurances.
ISME chief executive Neil McDonnell said, while motor insurance costs have declined from their peak in recent years, businesses “have yet to see similar reductions in public and employer liability premiums”.