Monday 23 September 2019

Judge awards €8,000 compensation to garda for shoulder injury - not €20,000 sought

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Tim Healy

A High Court judge has awarded €8,000 compensation to a garda for a soft tissue shoulder injury, not the €20,000 sought, in line with a downwards "recalibration" of personal injury awards in certain cases by up to 50 per cent.

Unfortunately, the legal costs of the case are likely to be "a multiple" of the €8,000 award, Mr Justice Michael Twomey said.

This was because every garda compensation case, "no matter how minor" has to be heard in the High Court at considerable costs to the taxpayer who pays the costs of both the State and the injured garda.

These cases could be dealt with in the District or Circuit Court at less cost or, at no legal cost, by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board for which they were ideally suited as they involve assessments, he said.

He made the remarks in his judgment on compensation proceedings by Garda Ronan Leonard against the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform over an injury suffered when he fell on July 11, 2014, while chasing a suspect.

He attended an out of hours GP service and was later assessed at an A&E hospital department where X rays revealed no fractures. He was discharged with pain killers and anti-inflammatories and was on sick leave for about five days before resuming normal duties at work.

On July 21, 2014, he attended his GP for ongoing pain, was diagnosed with a sprain to the joint at the top of his left shoulder treated him with a steroid injection which was repeated in October 2014. He was also given anti-inflammatories.

The medical evidence showed that was the last medical intervention and Garda Leonard has made a full recovery from the soft tissue injury, the judge said.

There was no evidence of any previous claim by the Garda under the Garda Compensation Acts, he added.

Counsel for Garda Leonard had referred to the Book of Quantum, which provides guidance in relation to personal injury claims, and said it provided for awards of up to €32,500 for "minor" shoulder injuries and between €22,000 and €60,000 for "moderate" shoulder injuries.

On that basis, it was argued Garda Leonard should get €20,000 but the court considered the appropriate award was €8000, plus €60 agreed special damages.

The judge said the recent report of the Personal Injuries Commission (PIC), chaired by former High Court President Nicholas Kearns, had said personal injury awards here are 4.4 times higher than in England and Wales and there was a need for rebalancing and recalibration of Irish awards.

The Chief Justice, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, had also said in a recent media interview the PIC report had to be "taken seriously".

The PIC report and the comments of the Chief Justice and former Mr Justice Kearns were "undoubtedly of great significance" but were "extra judicial" and cannot be directly relied on by him in this case, the judge said.

He had concluded the award should be €8,000 award in light of recent binding decisions of the Court of Appeal in personal  injury cases described as amounting to a downwards recalibration of damages in certain personal injury actions of between 45-50 per cent.

He also considered the €8,000 award was fair to the plaintiff and defendant and proportionate to the injury suffered.

It was also reasonable in light of average earnings in the State and the uncontroverted medical evidence concerning the injury and the length of the Garda's absence from work.

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