Several High Court challenges against new guidelines for personal injury awards are causing real difficulties regarding how such claims are currently being processed, the High Court has heard.
The challenges, which are against the State, and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB), the State body that makes personal injury awards, are aimed at setting aside guidelines regarding awards for personal injuries claim brought in last April.
In March 2021 the Judicial Council, a body made up of all the State’s judges, voted to adopt the new guidelines. The challenges, which both PIAB and the State oppose, are aimed at setting aside the guidelines.
The first of the challenges was launched last July on behalf of Bridget Delaney of Cruachan, Knockateemore, Dungarvan, Co Waterford and has been deemed by the court to be the lead case.
When it and the cases were mentioned before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Wednesday Eoin McCullough SC for the State said the challenges are causing “real difficulties” regarding how personal injuries claims are dealt with by both PIAB and by the courts.
Counsel said that considering the challenges, which impacts on the thousands of personal injuries claims made every year, a lead action needs to be heard and determined by the court as soon as possible.
Counsel said while not all pretrial matters have been completed, he asked the court to fix a trial date for the hearing of a lead case, as it would give the parties a date to work towards.
Douglas Clarke SC for PIAB supported the state’s application for an early trial and added that the determination of a lead action challenging the guidelines was hugely important from his client’s perspective.
Feichin McDonagh SC, for Mrs Delaney, said while his client has no issue with the matter being heard as soon as possible, fixing a date was at this stage would be ‘premature’ given that some pretrial issues remain outstanding.
Counsel said that his side also required time to consider the State’s and PIAB’s opposition to the challenges, which he said ran to several thousand pages .
Mr Justice Meenan said he fully appreciated the importance of the issues raised have for all the parties concerned.
However, the court was not prepared to fix a hearing for the lead case at this stage, due to a lack of judicial resources.
The judge said that there is currently a “mis-match” between the number of High Court judges, and the volume of work pending before the courts.
The judge also noting that matters, including the discovery of documents, and an application that the case be heard by a judge of the High Court who did not vote in last March’s vote by the judicial council, have yet to be determined.
The court said that he considered Mrs Delaney’s case to be the lead or first of the challenges to be heard.
He said that to save on court time and legal costs, the core issues of the challenges should be determined in the lead action.
He added said he was not prepared to allow any other similar actions, raising the same or similar points, all run in different directions at the same time before the courts.
The judge added that he was not ruling out allowing another case being heard at the same time as Mrs Delaney action.
The judge directed that to expedite matters there should be an exchange of pleadings between the various applicants bringing the challenges.
The judge adjourned all of cases, including Ms Delaney’s, to a date in January.
In her judicial review proceedings against PIAB, the Judicial Council, Ireland and the Attorney General, Ms Delaney seeks orders quashing the assessment PIAB made in respect of her claim, and the Judicial Council’s decision of March 6th last to adopt the new personal injuries guidelines.
She also seeks a range of declarations including that PIAB acted outside its powers, breached her rights to natural and constitutional justice, and that the Judicial Council acted outside of its powers in adopting the personal injuries guidelines.
She claims she fractured a bone in her right ankle, after she tripped and fell at a public footpath at Pinewood Estate Dungarvan Co Waterford on April 12th, 2019, last.
She required medical treatment, physiotherapy and was given a walker boot for about four weeks and has alleged that she suffered her injuries due to the negligence of Waterford City and Council.
In June 2019 she submitted a claim to PIAB, seeking damages.
At the time she claims PIAB was required to have regard to the general guidelines as to the amounts that may be awarded or assessed in personal Injury claims, contained in the Book of Quantum, when assessing her application and making an award.
She claims that the appropriate awards for the injury she sustained ranged from between €18,000 and €34,000. In May PIAB said in its assessment of her claim that she was entitled to €3,000 in general damages.
She rejects this assessment, says it is insufficient, and does not compensate her for the injuries she sustained.
She claims the assessment amounted to an error in law by PIAB and was in breach of fair procedures.
She claims her assessment was delayed because PIAB was awaiting the coming into force of new Personal Injuries Guidelines and the assessment of her claim was wrongly made under the new guidelines.
She also claims that the requirement in the 2019 Judicial Council Act that members of the judiciary vote on the new guidelines is inconsistent with the independence of the judiciary and amount to an impermissible delegation to the administration of justice to the council.
She also claims that the adoption of the guidelines has violated Ms Delaney’s constitutional right to access to the courts.