Judicial Council committee drafts guidelines on personal injury awards

Cost savings depend on insurers passing on benefits of reduced awards, judges say

Irish whiplash awards are 1.2 to 1.3 times higher than Northern Irish whiplash awards and 1.9 to 2.3 times higher than English and Welsh awards.

Irish whiplash awards are 1.2 to 1.3 times higher than Northern Irish whiplash awards and 1.9 to 2.3 times higher than English and Welsh awards.

 

Any impact on insurance costs arising from proposed new guidelines for assessing personal injury awards depends on insurance companies passing on any resulting savings to consumers, the judges who drafted the guidelines say.

The Judicial Council’s personal injuries guidelines committee examined the situation concerning personal injury awards in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the State’s law on damages before drafting the proposals.

The committee and board of the council have unanimously recommended the judiciary adopt the guidelines, which are to be further considered at a meeting of the council on February 20th.

In its report, the committee says whether or not the guidelines impact on the cost of insurance depends on insurance companies passing on any savings resulting from their implementation to consumers.

It says there is little public appreciation of “just how few” claims for damages ultimately become the subject of an award by a court.

Based on information from eight insurers concerning closed or finalised personal injury cases between 2017-2019, the committee said some 25,000 of 59,347 cases were dealt with before proceedings issued.

Settlement figures

Of the remainder, 10,332 were closed by settlement before proceedings; 7,729 were closed by acceptance of an award from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board; 318 were closed by court award and 15,850 were closed otherwise.

Noting claims that court awards drive settlement figures, the committee said it wanted to highlight that decisions of the Court of Appeal in recent years have led to significant reductions in many awards made by the High Court.

The committee noted various Irish court decisions to the effect that the maximum awards of damages for personal injuries must be reserved for the most catastrophic cases, less severe injuries must attract lower awards and awards should be proportionate to the injury suffered and to each other.

In preparing the guidelines, the committee sought an expert report concerning the current economic situation in the State to assist it in deciding whether the €500,000 upper limit for general damages for catastrophic injuries set in 2009 remained appropriate now. It also sought guidance from a number of European supreme courts concerning general damages awards in such cases.

Having examined the data, the committee concluded that a €550,000 upper limit was appropriate.

Whiplash payments

The committee also examined limited data available in Ireland concerning awards for less serious injuries, particularly for whiplash/soft-tissue injuries.

A statistical analysis of data concluded Irish court awards for less serious injuries are about 1.2 to 1.3 times higher than awards in Northern Ireland, twice to 2.3 times higher than English and Welsh awards and “significantly higher” than awards in the common law countries of Singapore and Germany.

Other conclusions were that Irish whiplash awards are 1.2 to 1.3 times higher than Northern Irish whiplash awards and 1.9 to 2.3 times higher than English and Welsh awards.

The committee said a 2018 report of the Personal Injuries Commission, which found that damages awarded for soft-tissue injuries are 4.4 times higher here than in England and Wales, could not be regarded as a reliable indicator of the level of such awards because its conclusions were primarily based on settlements, not awards.

In setting the brackets of damages it considered appropriate for lesser injuries, the committee considered such data and said it had set its values by reference to the Northern Irish and English and Welsh figures.

The result is that Irish awards of damages, as a result of the guidelines, will lie somewhere between those which would be awarded in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales for the same injuries.