A judge has criticised lawyers for refusing to settle compensation cases taken by members of An Garda Síochána against the State, saying it is in their interests to take part in costly High Court hearings.
Mr Justice Michael Twomey said there was a settlement rate of zero in claims taken under the garda compensation acts, which are heard in the High Court, compared to a 90 per cent settlement rate in general personal injury claims.
“The obvious reason for this is that there is no financial incentive for the injured guard to settle and in fact there is a financial incentive for the lawyers not to settle since they would be forgoing the costs they get for the hearing,” Mr Justice Michael Twomey said.
The judge has set out practice regulations in respect of such cases under which the State must as quickly as practible make an offer to a garda looking for compensation and, where a court award did not equal or beat that offer, awarding costs against the garda concerned.
In cases brought under the garda compensation acts there is no issue as to liability once a claim is authorised by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, who accepts liability to pay for injuries sustained while on duty.
The new practice would be the same as the approach to settlements that currently applies in other courts to general personal injury claims.
Mr Justice Twomey said the court’s improved settlement practice would save taxpayers millions in legal costs and lead to gardaí getting their compensation sooner and without the necessity of court hearings.
In most hearings assessments would be for minor sprains and soft tissue injuries but instead of being settled at a fraction of the legal costs, being heard in the district or circuit courts with lower legal costs or being dealt with by the Personal Injuries Board with no legal costs whatsoever, all of these went to a contested assessment in the High Court.
“The only winners from the fact that 100 per cent of garda compensation cases go to full hearing in the High Court are lawyers for the State and for the applicant garda. The clear loser is the taxpayer who funds all of these legal costs,” Judge Twomey said.
He said the absence of settlements in garda compensation cases was a startling statistic but not surprising when one considered that in other personal injury claims there was a financial incentive for the litigant to settle because a litigant can be penalised in terms costs when they refuse an offer.
The judge said there was no good reason why garda compensation applications should not settle, just as in other personal injury cases.
He granted counsel for the State and counsel for applicants liberty to make submissions in relation to the change of practice.