On 6 March 2021, the Judicial Council voted to adopt the Personal Injury Guidelines (Guidelines) under the Judicial Council Act 2019 (2019 Act). The Guidelines, when brought into law, will replace the Book of Quantum, and provide a recalculation on damages awards in personal injuries claims.
The Guidelines will be used by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) and across each level of the Irish court system. The Guidelines aim to promote a better understanding of the principles governing the assessment and award of damages for personal injuries with a view to achieving greater consistency in awards.
The Guidelines were drafted by the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee (Committee), which is comprised of seven judges selected from all court levels, from the Supreme Court to the District Court. According to the introductory text of the Guidelines, the Committee catalogued the level of damages which it considered might fairly and justly be awarded in respect of varying types of personal injury. It is notable that the recalculation of damages in the Guidelines was predominantly downwards.
It is expected that the amendments to the 2019 Act and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 will be brought forward through the Family Leave Bill to ensure the Guidelines can take legal effect as soon as possible.
The Guidelines include a summary of how they should be employed, a brief synopsis of which is as follows:
1. General Principles
It is recognised that the award of damages must be fair and reasonable to both the claimant and the defendant. Awards must be proportionate to the injuries sustained and must also be proportionate when viewed in the context of awards of damages commonly made in cases involving injuries of a greater or lesser magnitude.
Trial judges should ask each party to identify the relevant damages bracket in the Guidelines which most closely matches the dominant injury sustained, as supported by the evidence. The courts will retain independence and discretion when awarding general damages. However, the courts must make assessments having regard to the Guidelines. The consideration for any departure from the Guidelines should be detailed in the judgment.
2. Multiple injuries
Difficulty may arise when assessing the general damages in cases involving multiple injuries as the Guidelines value each injury separately. As there will usually be a temporal overlap in the injuries sustained, valuing each injury separately may result in the claimant being overcompensated which would be unjust in respect of the defendant.
In cases of multiple injuries, the trial judge must identify the injury and the bracket of damages within the Guidelines that best resembles the most significant of the claimant’s injuries. The trail judge must also be cognisant that the claimant is fairly and justly compensated for additional pain, discomfort and limitations arising from lesser injuries.
3. Unidentified categories of injuries
When dealing with a novel or infrequent injury, a court should seek to value the injury by reference to the damages for equally significant injuries in the Guidelines to ensure that the award made will be fair, just and proportionate having regard to the scheme of damages.
Reducing the cost of insurance
As noted above, the recalculation of damages in the Guidelines was predominantly downwards. Accordingly, it is thought that this recalculation may result in many cases starting in lower courts and in turn a reduction in legal costs being incurred by insurers and therefore reduced premia for consumers.
The Guidelines will likely be a welcome development for the insurance industry as they provide greater certainty and predictability in respect of the amounts of damages awarded by the courts or PIAB. This certainty is expected to achieve earlier settlements and reduce legal costs.
The Guidelines, once they come into effect, will be another key piece in the Government’s commitment to insurance reform as outlined in its Programme for Government (see our article here).
If you would like to know more about the services we offer or have any questions about the new Guidelines on personal injury awards, please contact the Insurance team or your usual contact at William Fry.
Contributed by Catherine Williams