The number of personal injury cases taken in the State was down slightly last year while the average award made at High Court level dropped by 29 per cent, according to figures in the latest annual report from the Courts Service.
The figures appear to conflict with the view that increasing litigation and award levels are behind the rise in public liability and other insurance premium levels.
Total awards made in the High Court in 2018 were €57.5 million, down from €85.3 million the previous year. The average award made dropped to €171,201, from €243,288 the previous year.
While there would be a lot more settlements arrived at than awards made in cases that went all the way to judgment, the level of awards granted in judgments has a significant effect on the amounts agreed in settlements. A drop in awards levels would, therefore, most likely be reflected in the amounts being agreed in settlements.
While the report does not give a reason for why the level of average High Court awards fell, the chairman of the Personal Injuries Commission, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, has said decisions made in the Court of Appeal in recent years, where some awards have been substantially reduced, have had the effect of "recalibrating" downwards the level of award being made in the High Court.
However, he has said the effect of the Court of Appeal rulings is not being seen at Circuit Court and District Court levels.
The figures in the annual report show that the average award at Circuit Court level rose, to €19,304 from €18,488 in 2017, a rise of 2.8 per cent. Total awards at Circuit Court level were €23.6 million.
While most personal injuries cases taken every year are taken at Circuit Court level, the bulk of the value, or money paid out, is accounted for by cases taken at High Court level.
There were a total of 22,049 personal injury suits filed last year, at all court levels, a slight decrease on the 22,417 filed the previous year.
A Bill to establish a judicial council, which the Government has asked to set up a committee which will look at recalibrating personal injuries awards, has passed through the Dáil and is expected to pass quickly through the Seanad.
The Government hopes this will lead to the reduction in the level of award being granted at District and Circuit Court level for soft tissue or whiplash type injuries. Awards at this level are much higher in Ireland than they are in the UK.
However any new guidelines for judges in relation to personal injury awards, are not likely to be ready for two years or more.
While the insurance companies have argued that high awards in the courts, as well as fraudulent claims, are the reason for growing public liability and other premiums, others have charged that the companies are making excessive profits.
The figures contained in the latest annual report from the Courts Service also show that the total awarded in medical negligence cases in the High Court, dropped to €91.4 million, from €98.8 million. However, this figure may be affected by a new periodic payments regime, where the victims of catastrophic injuries receive awards that see money being paid out over the course of their lifetimes.
There were 28 medical negligence awards in 2018 for amounts in excess of €500,000, up from 24 the previous year.