PEOPLE taking personal injury claims could be hit with large legal bills if they turn down an offer from the State assessment board and then fail to win a higher award in court.
A bill to give effect to this is part of a range of reforms to the Personal Injury Assessment Board in a bid to encourage more people to use it instead of the expense of going to court.
The board will be renamed the Personal Injuries Resolution Board (PIRB).
Minister of State Robert Troy said the legislation will allow the board to deal with claims of a psychological nature and to offer the option of mediating claims.
Thousands of claimants in personal injuries cases go to court every year instead of accepting PIRB awards.
PIAB is a State body that adjudicates on claims without involving the courts. If either side rejects a settlement offer the case can go to court.
Currently people who reject a PIRB settlement and go to court, but do not get a higher award in the courts, rarely have to pay any legal costs.
But the new bill will see those who reject an offer of an award from PIRB, but fail to get a higher award in court, facing the prospect of paying large legal costs.
Such a claimant will be faced with paying his or her own legal costs and the defendant’s costs from the date of the lodgement of the claim.
The legal costs of settling a claim through litigation in the courts are almost 20 times higher than those of the assessment board.
Legal costs associated with settling claims through litigation were €16,064 compared to legal costs under the board of only €841, the Central Bank has found.
And the time taken to resolve claims through litigation is 4.2 years while claims settled through PAIB take 2.3 years on average.
This is despite the fact that award levels tend not to be any higher in the courts compared with those from the assessment board.
Minister Troy said the Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill 2022 is proposing to amend section 51A of the Act to encourage early resolution of claims and minimise costs.
The Bill provides that where the claimant proceeds to litigation an assessment that has been accepted by a respondent will have the status of an offer of tender payment, as of the date the respondent accepted the assessment.
Where the court award is not greater than the PIRB assessment the claimant will not recover their costs and will generally be liable for the respondent’s costs as well.
Also proposed in the legislation is that the PIRB offers mediation as a means of resolving a claim.
The board will retain claims of a wholly psychological nature.
It will have additional time to assess claims where an injury is yet to settle rather than releasing to litigation
PIRB will also seek proof of identity on application and disclose information to An Garda Síochána to reduce fraud, under the terms of the proposed legislation.
Minister Troy said: “As part of the Bill I have also decided to include a new provision to strengthen the process by making it an offence to provide false or misleading information to the PIRB.
“This should increase confidence in, and strengthen the PIAB process, which relies upon accurate and truthful information for its just and proper operation.”
The Alliance for Insurance Reform welcomed the intent of this legislation.
Alliance director Peter Boland said it makes no sense for plaintiffs in minor injury cases to reject PIAB assessments on personal injuries.
“Doing so and proceeding to litigation earns no more compensation and adds over two years to the process before compensation is delivered.
“The only beneficiaries of this process are the lawyers who earn thousands more by getting the claim out of PIAB. This is not sustainable for society.”
Mr Boland urged Minister Troy to ensure this Bill is enacted and commenced by the end of this year.