Sunday 18 August 2019

Revealed: Big decrease in average size of personal injury awards

Four Courts
Four Courts
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Major drops have been recorded in the level of awards for medical negligence and personal injury cases, new figures released by the Courts Service indicate.

The overall amount awarded across the courts in personal injury cases slumped by almost 19pc last year from €183.1m to €148.9m.

But the drop was even starker for non-medical negligence personal injury cases, where the overall sum awarded by the High Court fell by 31pc from €84.3m to €57.5m.

Analysed further, the figures, contained in the Courts Service’s annual report for 2018, indicate the average personal injury award for non-medical negligence cases dropped by almost 29pc in the High Court, down from €240,963 in 2017 to €171,201 last year.

The data is set to fuel further scrutiny of the insurance industry, which has blamed the cost of claims for high premiums in recent years.

But the report indicates the move towards lower awards is not being seen across all the courts.

The High Court has been the main driver of the decrease, while awards in the Circuit Court and District Court for personal injuries actually increased between 2017 and 2018.

The Circuit and District courts courts tend to deal with less serious matters, such as soft tissue injuries like whiplash. 

The amount awarded in the Circuit Court rose from €19.8m to €23.5m between 2017 and 2018, with the average sum awarded jumping by 2.8pc from €18,488 to €19,014.

The overall sum awarded in the District Court jumped from €3.49m in 2017 to €4.5m last year, with the average sum awarded rising by 4.5pc from €7,643 to €7,987.

The figures bear out the analysis of former High Court President Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, who said earlier this year that while the Court of Appeal had recalibrated awards at the upper end, this downward reach effectively stopped in the High Court and was not been seen in the courts below it.

Mr Justice Kearns chaired the Personal Injuries Commission, which recommended the setting up of a Judicial Council to recalibrate the size of awards for less serious injuries. Legislation allowing for the Judicial Council passed through the Dáil last week.

Meanwhile, the annual report also revealed a major decline in debt cases.

There was a 52pc decrease in new possession cases year on year, down to 1,607 from 3,356 in 2017. The figures represent an 82pc decrease over five years.

There was a 16pc reduction in bankruptcy applications, which were down to 382 last year.

Cases involving efforts to recover debt fell by 12.5pc to 23,318, while personal insolvency applications drop by 62pc from 2,385 in 2017 to 909 last year.

Elsewhere, report indicated a significant rise in family violence issues coming before the courts.

There was a 16pc increase in domestic violence applications, of which there were 18,672 last year.

The number of emergency barring orders sought rose by 38pc to 1,270, while there was a 28pc increase in longer term barring orders sought.

There was also increased activity in the area of child care and welfare.

Last year saw a 10.5pc increase in child supervision and care order applications.

The report highlighted the increased use of mediation as an alternative means of resolving family law disputes.

Family law mediation services are available in eight locations around the country. Last year 576 couples entered mediation and 365 of these reached agreements, which were approved by the court.

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