Settlement of €4m might not be enough for victim - judge
APPROVAL of a €4m High Court settlement for a woman injured in a traffic accident has been deferred after a judge complained again about delays in bringing in lifelong payments for such cases.
Ms Justice Mary Irvine deferred until later this month her approval in the case of student Jennifer Courtney (24) after saying a €4m settlement of her catastrophic personal injury claim might not be enough if she lived beyond the life expectancy estimated by doctors.
"Ask me is that justice? These are the rules I am asked to operate in," the judge said.
This country is operating an outdated, unjust and ineffective system of awarding lump sum damages to those who have suffered catastrophic injuries, she said.
She was speaking as she was about to rule the settlement in the case of Ms Courtney who suffered a traumatic brain injury and needs 24-hour care since she was knocked down by a car as she crossed a road in Dublin five years ago.
Ms Courtney of Westpark Estate, Artane, Dublin, had sued through her father Hugh Courtney, the motorist, Jiao Hong Gang, of Dunsaithne Grove, Fleming Lane, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, as a result of the accident at Tonlegee Road, Coolock, Dublin, on November 17, 2007. Mr Hong Gang denied liability.
Ms Justice Irvine said while €4m was a reasonable settlement, Ms Courtney's case could not be a clearer one to justify periodic payments to ensure she is looked after for the rest of her life.
The case highlighted the problems for the court in trying to do justice in such cases, she said.
If Ms Courtney lived longer than the years projected by her own doctors, then she will run out of money.
The cost of care each year was over €170,000 and if calculations are incorrect in such cases, it could be catastrophic for a the person involved, the judge said.
If there was an over-estimation of life expectancy, the family involved could have an unexpected windfall, the judge said.
The judge said it was a very significant case in the term of Ms Courtney's welfare and she asked the Courtneys' lawyer to compile a formal opinion on the case in advance of the next court hearing. It will come before the court again on October 26.
Earlier Pat O'Connell SC, for the Courtneys, said the €4m settlement was on the basis of 50/50 split in liability in relation to the road traffic accident.
It was initially claimed Mr Hong Gang was driving at speed at the time of the accident but in a reconstruction and in calculations by experts, it was considered he was driving within the speed limit, counsel said.
A garda report referred to it as a "dart out" incident. It was also claimed that one of the lights on his car was defective.
It was claimed Ms Courtney was in a coma for a prolonged period after the accident but is now alert though she needs 24-hour care. She is unable to work and will require long-term care in a specialist care environment.