Tuesday 26 March 2019

Personal injuries system being brought into disrepute by claims - judge

Stock photo: Depositphotos
Stock photo: Depositphotos
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Tim Healy

A man's failed claim that a minor accident caused him life-changing injuries are the type of legal actions bringing the whole system of personal injuries litigation into disrepute, a High Court judge said.

Mr Justice Michael Twomey made the comment when dismissing a whiplash type injury claim brought by Desmond McDonagh over an accident involving his car and a delivery truck in the service area at the back of Galway Shopping Centre on November 9, 2013.

The judge said he could not accept claims by Mr McDonagh that the accident ruined his life because he later got a heart attack, depression, anxiety and nightmares.

In the accident, Mr McDonagh of Headford Road, Galway, said the SFT Transport truck being driven by James Dominick Dent, reversed into his car while it was stationery. 

Mr Dent denied the claims and said Mr McDonagh drove his car into the truck.

The judge said there was minor damage to Mr McDonagh's car, costing just under €2,000 to repair.  The evidence showed the damage amounted to scraping of the car driver's door, damage to the right wing mirror and denting of the front wing.

Mr McDonagh, who said he had driven through a narrow passage in the service delivery area as a short cut, was able to open his door afterwards and the damage did not prevent him driving the car afterwards.

The judge said a week after the accident, Mr McDonagh went to his GP who recorded a good range of movements in his neck and back.  He also had a normal straight leg raise and hip examination.  

Nearly four years later, when examined by a doctor for Mr Dent's insurers, he told how he had suffered a heart attack and other problems "because all this happened to me and the injury ruined my life".

He sued for whiplash type injuries and damage to his car in the Circuit Court which dismissed his claim as fraudulent.  He appealed that decision to the High Court.

Mr Justice Twomey said were it not for the fact that certain evidence in relation to the the damage to the car not heard in the lower court was heard in the High Court appeal, he would also have dismissed the action in its entirety.

While he could not accept the Mr McDonagh's evidence regarding his alleged personal injuries, he was satisfied the truck did reverse into the car.  This was on the basis of a letter from Mr Dent's insurance assessor that the truck reversed into the car which had not been presented to the Circuit Court.

The judge awarded Mr McDonagh €2,124 for the damage but said he will have to pay his own Circuit and High Court costs which he said "are likely to be much greater" than the award.

"This case is an example of a relatively common, yet perhaps under-appreciated, occurrence in litigation where it is possible for both parties to lose - primarily because of the considerable cost involved in litigation", he said.

"Claims such as this, seeking damages for alleged life changing injuries resulting from minor accidents, bring the whole system of personal injuries' litigation into disrepute," he said.

He added Mr McDonagh would no doubt be in a much better financial position than he is now if he had not brought the extensive claim for personal injury because this would have prevented an early settlement over damage to his car.  

Similarly, Mr Dent's insurance company would be in a better financial position had it disclosed the insurance assessor's letter that the damage was a result of the truck reversing into the car.

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