Payouts for injury victims are too small, says judge
Published 12/04/2010 | 05:00
PEOPLE who have suffered serious injuries are being left without enough money to look after themselves due to "serious defects" in how compensation awards are calculated, one of the country's most senior judges has warned.
High Court President Nicholas Kearns told a legal conference on Saturday that cases involving "catastrophic injuries" -- such as brain defects at birth -- were causing particular difficulties because the long-term costs of providing care were often based on "guesswork".
And he said that in some cases, the person who caused the injuries in the first place received multi-million euro windfalls when the injured person died.
"There have been many catastrophically injured persons who have spent their final years, sometimes decades, without the means to pay for care because the damages awarded have proved inadequate," he said.
"Similarly, a defendant has no recourse if a large lump sum is paid to a plaintiff who succumbs to his injuries earlier than expected. The next of kin of some deceased plaintiffs have received unintended multi-million euro windfalls. Ironically, some have been those persons whose negligence originally caused the catastrophic injury."
Mr Justice Kearns, who is an ex-officio judge of the Supreme Court, was speaking at the Law Society's annual conference in Kilkenny on Saturday.
Announcing the establishment of a working group to consider a "different approach" to compensation settlements, he said the current system of awarding a "lump-sum" payment could be changed to a system where payments were made on a periodic basis.
This would ensure that victims could pay for their care irregardless of how long they lived. It would also mean that insurance companies could stop payments if the victim died.
"Serious defects in the system are evident. In cases involving catastrophic injuries, the court will usually be required to calculate the cost of the plaintiff's future care based upon evidence of estimated life expectancy," Mr Justice Kearns said.
"This exercise involves an amount of speculation and informed guesswork undertaken by medical practitioners. This lump-sum approach dictates that there is no recourse for a plaintiff who exhausts his fund by exceeding his projected life expectancy."
The 17-person working group has been asked to consider if certain categories of damages for catastrophic injuries can or should be awarded by periodic payments instead of a lump-sum arrangement. Changes to the system could also result in a fall in legal costs. The group will report by November 30.