‘It will crucify the Bar’: Cork solicitors confident of adapting to new injuries guidelines

Judges voted to introduce new guidelines to reduce amount paid out in specific damages

Eamonn Fleming: ‘Solicitors in country towns are a resilient bunch.’ Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Eamonn Fleming: ‘Solicitors in country towns are a resilient bunch.’ Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

 

West Cork-based solicitor Eamonn Fleming has been here before. Back in 2003 it was argued that the the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) would signal the death-knell for country solicitors. Today similar claims are being voiced about the impact of the personal injury guidelines that come into force on Saturday, following years of demands for lower insurance costs.

“I think [they] will lead to a greater acceptance of an award made by PIAB, and people will be more cautious about litigating a case in court. But I don’t think the level of business will change,” says Bandon-based Mr Fleming.

However, there is not a clear consensus amongst solicitors about the changes. Macroom, Co Cork, solicitor Patrick Goold, of JF Goold, admitted to being concerned about what lies ahead.

Plans to cut some awards may increase the number of cases being heard in District Courts, where damages are capped at €15,000, he says.

Currently, they deals with few personal injury cases.

“But if the District Court is going to get flooded with these cases, given it’s already busy with family law, criminal law, debt collections and so much more, it will get completely clogged up,” he warns.

While the guidelines increase by €50,000 the €500,000 currently offered by the Book of Quantum for catastrophic injuries such as quadriplegia or paraplegia, other awards are likely to fall.

Currently, there is no minimum for whiplash injury. Now a maximum of €3,000 will be offered where recovery happens within six months, and €12,000 where it happens within two years.

Circuit Court

Seán Cahill, of CW Ashe & Co in Macroom, doubts the District Court will be flooded with cases as it is not equipped to deal with them. Most solicitors will still opt for the Circuit Court, he believes.

“I don’t have any particularly strong feeling on the guidelines – I don’t think it will have any great effect on the Circuit Court here in Cork, because while the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court is up to €60,000, I haven’t seen anybody come near that type of award.

“The level of award you are typically getting is €20,000 to €25,000, maybe €30,000, that’s about it. So I think what is happening here in the Circuit Court in Cork already reflects to a large extent what the guidelines are recommending.”

Circuit Court awards are already very much in line with the guidelines, says Midleton-based solicitor Ken Murray, but the likely reductions in awards will affect the profession.

“When I started off first I would be doing a civil case a month in the District Court. whereas now I would say it is five years since I did a contested civil case... the days of setting yourself up as a civil litigation-processing operation are over.

“But it’s going to crucify the Bar because if cases are going to be settled, it’s going to be done at an earlier stage and won’t involve barristers, and you need people moving through the Bar – barristers use personal injury cases to support themselves while they develop expertise in specialist areas.”

Applications

Mr Fleming remains confident that county town solicitors will adapt.

“I remember someone saying when PIAB was set up it was being done to create a solicitor-free zone,” he says “But PIAB’s own figures show that approximately 90 per cent of PIAB applicants are still making their applications through solicitors, and I think that will continue with these new guidelines.

“Solicitors in country towns are a resilient bunch. They’re adaptable, and they establish a very good rapport with their clients, and clients come to trust them the way they trust their GP, and that’s key to their survival.”