Challenging the perception of a claims culture in ROI

The Courts Service of Ireland has reported a 15% increase in the number of Personal Injury Summonses issued in 2016 and, naturally, this has led to heightened concerns around the so-called claims culture and increased insurance premiums in Ireland.

There often appears to be a perception that anyone involved in personal injury litigation is a chancer. This is, however, far from the truth and leads to many claimants feeling reluctant to pursue claims and ashamed should the matter become public knowledge.  Personal injury litigation is not simply about claiming a ‘couple of grand’ because you’ve had a bit of a creak in your neck for a couple of days after your accident. In most instances the injuries, and the consequential loss arising from that, goes much further, particularly in Ireland where citizens do not have the benefit of free healthcare.

Injury claimants are obviously seeking compensation for the pain and suffering they have endured (known as general damages) but, in many instances, the claim for special damages (or expenses/losses incurred or likely to be incurred) far outweighs any compensation for general damages. Special damages typically tend to be for the cost of medical treatment (e.g €50 a pop to see the GP for physio, €200 for a scan or to see a consultant, prescription fees etc – it can add up to a substantial sum over time); future medical treatment; home adaptions in the case of permanent debilitating injuries; care costs;  loss of earnings; future loss of earnings in cases where someone is no longer able to continue in their job due to their injuries……. the list goes on.   Quite often injury claims take a considerable length of time to resolve and, in complex cases, you could be looking at a minimum of three years but quite often much longer, especially in medical negligence claims. This is a considerable financial burden on the claimant and their families and this is something that is often overlooked when castigating injury claimants. Many with less disposable income are unable to fund their treatment at all and are at the mercy of the public waiting lists meaning that treatment, and therefore recovery, is delayed on the basis of economics.

The Injuries Board was set up in 2004 to reduce the number of personal injury claims being brought before the courts and it has been very successful in doing so.  It has some shortcomings, notably the refusal to award legal fees despite the fact that the vast majority of claimants apply via a solicitor, but nonetheless, it takes a good deal of the less complex injury claims out of the court system.

There are many reasons why a claim may not be dealt with by the Injuries Board. It is not always simply because the claimant thinks they will get a higher award in court. In fact, in some cases there is no other option but to issue a Personal Injuries Summons if ………….

–          The injuries are entirely psychiatric in nature;

–          Liability is in dispute and the respondent declines an assessment;

–          There is a jurisdiction issue (eg Rome II);

–          The final prognosis will not be known within the timescale the Injuries Board has to assess the claim (ie in the case of serious injuries);

–          The complexity of the injuries or the overlap with another injury/medical condition

The insurance industry has been expressing concern about the number of injury claims made in Ireland for some time and have used this to justify significant premium increases despite other factors, such as poor investments and the recession, having as much, if not more, bearing on matters. It is important to remember that it not possible to succeed with a personal injury claim unless you suffered an injury caused by negligence on the part of someone else who owes you a duty of care. If you find yourself in these circumstances you are entitled to pursue a claim and should not be made to feel embarrassed for doing so.  Fraudulent and exaggerated claims are few and far between and we have a robust court system which invariably exposes those types of claims and deals with them. It is unfair for the genuine claimant to be tarred with the same brush simply by virtue of having pursued a claim which they were entitled to make.