Motor injury settlements

 

Sir, – The Central Bank has found that motor injury claims for less than €100,000 account for 94 per cent of claims and that in such cases the award in a litigated case is on average €23,572, while the average award in a case dealt with by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board is €22,319 (“Legal costs account for one-third of motor injury settlements”, News, November 3rd).

It seems reasonable to suggest that an injured party considering a claim and in possession of this information might prefer to use the PIAB route. His award may be 5 per cent or €1,250 lower but he may feel that there are adequate compensations. If his claim is successful, he will be paid more quickly and, regardless of the outcome, he will avoid the stress and publicity attending litigation and will not have to give any serious thought to legal costs.

Why, then, is the number of cases litigated twice that dealt with by the PIAB? Who benefits from this apparently irrational behaviour?

The Central Bank provides the answer. The average legal cost of a claim pursued through the courts was €14,949 compared to €514 for one that went through PIAB.

In short, a litigant will see a benefit of about €1,250 or 5 per cent from the hassle, inconvenience and sometimes the embarrassment of taking a case through the courts and will be paid much later. Our courts are burdened with cases which offer little or no benefit to the parties to the litigation. But our learned friends take €15,000 from litigation as against €500 from PIAB cases. And those who pay for motor insurance are relatively indifferent as between litigation and PIAB so far as concerns the awards made but have to pay for the fact that legal costs in litigated cases come in at 30 times the legal costs of a PIAB resolution.

I have two proposals, one modest and the other a little less so.

A solicitor who is asked to advise on a possible claim should be required to lay out the above-mentioned facts and a judge hearing a case should ask the claimant and his solicitor to confirm that this has been done.

All motor injury claims for less than €100,000 should in the first instance be assessed by the PIAB. The claimant should be free to accept any award made or to take his claim to court.

But the position on costs should be that, even if successful in court, the claimant will be held liable for the costs of the action in the event that the court awards less than the PIAB and will have some responsibility for costs on a sliding scale if the court award is marginally above that offered by the PIAB.

Ill-advised claimants might still want their day in court. But I suspect they might find it a little more difficult to secure expensive legal representation if the legal costs of a court action were less certain of payment. – Yours, etc,

PAT O’BRIEN ,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.