A Brief Look into the New Personal Injuries Guidelines

Introduction

On the 6th of March 2021, the Judicial Council voted in favour of adopting the New Personal Injuries Guidelines (“the Guidelines”) drafted by the Personal Injuries Guidelines Committee. The introduction of the Guidelines comes following a series of awards being reduced by the Court of Appeal in personal injuries claims.

Over the years, a pattern of inconsistencies has emerged as a result of judges attempting to quantify a plaintiff’s pain and suffering in monetary terms. Such quantification being described by the Committee as a “somewhat artificial task” and leading, unsurprisingly, to widely varying awards of damages.

It is anticipated that the Guidelines will achieve greater consistency in awards for personal injuries and will provide legal certainty for all parties involved.

Application of the Guidelines

The Guidelines will replace the Book of Quantum which was primarily used as a means of demonstrating a “potential range” of compensation for an injury.

While the Guidelines still offer a “potential range” of award (with predominantly downward recalculations), they additionally set out factors that must be considered by the trial judge when assessing the award. Those factors are that damages be:

– fair and reasonable for both claimant and defendant,

– proportionate to the injuries sustained, and

– proportionate when viewed in the context of award of damages commonly made in cases involving injuries of a similar magnitude.

Once commenced, Section 99 of the Judicial Council Act 2019 stipulates that it is mandatory for the court to have regard to the new Guidelines and where it departs from them, it must state the reasons for such departure. This still enables the court to exercise discretion based on the circumstances of each individual case.

The Guidelines in Practice

The Minister for Justice has just announced that the Guidelines will come into effect on 24th April, 2021 and the Guidelines will apply to new applications before the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The Book of Quantum will be used for claims already in being. This means that the effect of the Guidelines will not be felt for around another 12 months.

Notably, a significant number of minor and whiplash type injuries now fall within the jurisdiction of the district court so one can only presume that we will see an increase in District Court litigation. One such example is the recalculated figures for neck injuries where the claimant has substantially recovered, the Book of Quantum shows a potential compensation figure of up to €15,700.00 whereas the Guidelines begin their valuation at €500.00 and works its way up to €12,000.00 depending on the period of recovery.

The Guidelines cover a more extensive list of injuries which were not covered by the Book of Quantum including psychological injury, pain disorders and a valuation on scarring.

Reduction in Cost of Insurance

The Guidelines were also introduced as part of the Governments Action Plan for Insurance Reform. The hope is that claims will begin and end in lower courts meaning that insurance companies will incur lower legal fees thereby enabling them to reduce premiums.

Whilst this is no doubt a welcome change for insurance companies, only time will tell whether those intended objectives of reduced premiums will be achieved.

Conclusion

The Guidelines will play a very significant role in determining personal injuries awards going forward. At present they arguably favour the respondent and its insurer, we therefore wait with anticipation to see how judges will use and apply these Guidelines and what the future of personal injuries litigation will look like.

The new Guidelines can be viewed by clicking HERE.

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