Insurance hikes on cards as compo payouts to soar
The first update to guidelines on personal-injury awards in more than a decade is to recommend higher, not lower, payouts.
This has raised fears of yet more hikes in motor insurance costs, which have spiralled by more than a third in the past year alone.
The guidelines are set to see a 10pc rise in the recommended payout for lower-level injuries, which make up the majority of claims. Whiplash alone accounts for around 80pc of claims, according to insurers.
This would mean that the recommended payout for a typical whiplash award would be €16,500, rather than the €15,000 at present. There is already heavy criticism of existing whiplash awards here, as they are three times higher than those in Britain.
And it has emerged that judges have been secretly briefed on the contents of the new awards guidelines, known as the Book of Quantum, ahead of any other group. This is a bid by to get them to use the book when assessing personal-injury award levels.
Insurers have complained that there is huge inconsistency in court awards, while AA Ireland has called for specific training for judges on how to handle personal-injury cases.
Awards made in court tend to set the benchmark for all awards and settlements, whether the cases are heard in court or not.
The Book of Quantum is a general guide to the compensation that should be awarded for various types of injuries, depending on their severity.
The State body set up to assess personal-injuries claims - the Injuries Board - must refer to it in all its evaluations for personal-injury claims.
And under the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, judges "shall, in assessing damages in personal injuries action, have regard to the Book of Quantum".
Asked about indications that judges had been briefed about the new book, the head of the Injuries Board Conor O'Brien confirmed that this was the case. Insurance companies say they have not seen the latest version of it.
Mr O'Brien said: "We have engaged with all parties that use the Book of Quantum, but judges have to have regard to it, so we have engaged more with them."
He said judges were independent but the hope was that future judgements would reflect the new Book of Quantum.
The updating of the book is the first since 2004, when the Injuries Board was set up. It has been compiled by British data analysts ISO after gathering information on payouts by the courts, out-of-court settlements by insurers, payouts by the State Claims Agency and Injuries Board awards.
It is understood that the new guidelines will increase the recommended payouts for lower-level injuries awards by 10pc, but recommend lower awards for more serious injuries, such as permanent injuries.
The new guidelines will be more detailed. Where there were three grades recommended for an injury up to now, there will now be four or five grades for each injury. The increase in guideline levels is set to disappoint insures as it will push up payouts across the board. But the higher recommended payouts reflect elevated payouts in the courts over the past 12 years.
Michael Horan, of Insurance Ireland, said: "There is a lack of consistency in court awards and that, in turn, fuels litigation because people think, 'Maybe I'll reject the Injuries Board and I'll get more in court.'"