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Medical negligence fuels 46pc surge in personal injury awards

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Launch: Back row from left:  John Cleere, Courts Service Director, and Ms Justice Mary Irvine, President of the High Court; middle-row: Ms Justice Patricia Ryan, President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice George Bermingham, President of the Court of Appeal, and His Hon Judge Colin Daly, President of the District Court; front-row:  Chief Justice of Ireland, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Angela Denning, Courts Service CEO, at the launch of the Courts Service Annual Report 2019. Picture: Collins

Launch: Back row from left: John Cleere, Courts Service Director, and Ms Justice Mary Irvine, President of the High Court; middle-row: Ms Justice Patricia Ryan, President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice George Bermingham, President of the Court of Appeal, and His Hon Judge Colin Daly, President of the District Court; front-row: Chief Justice of Ireland, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Angela Denning, Courts Service CEO, at the launch of the Courts Service Annual Report 2019. Picture: Collins

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Launch: Back row from left: John Cleere, Courts Service Director, and Ms Justice Mary Irvine, President of the High Court; middle-row: Ms Justice Patricia Ryan, President of the Circuit Court, Mr Justice George Bermingham, President of the Court of Appeal, and His Hon Judge Colin Daly, President of the District Court; front-row: Chief Justice of Ireland, Mr Justice Frank Clarke, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Angela Denning, Courts Service CEO, at the launch of the Courts Service Annual Report 2019. Picture: Collins

The value of personal injury awards made by the courts surged last year on the back of a number of major catastrophic injury cases.

More than €260m was awarded for claims across the High Court, Circuit Court and District Court, an increase of 46pc on the €177m approved in 2018.

This was despite the fact that the number of personal injury suits filed was down slightly, with 21,981 actions initiated in 2019 compared to 22,049 the previous year.

The statistics were revealed in the Courts Service Annual Report for 2019.

The overall sum includes the record €25m awarded to a nine-year-old boy, Benjamin Gillick, who suffered permanent brain damage after the delayed diagnosis of an infection following surgery when he was a baby.

An analysis of the figures shows the value of awards involving medical negligence rose by 76pc last year, while awards for personal injuries not related to medical negligence increased by 15pc.

Medical negligence payouts approved by the courts jumped from €91.4m in 2018 to €161.2m last year. Personal injury awards in non-medical negligence cases jumped from €85.6m to €98.8m.

In the report, Chief Justice Frank Clarke said the dramatic rise in medical negligence awards "almost certainly reflects the number of major catastrophic injury cases being dealt with in the year - where a lifetime of needed care results in a large award and where lower returns on investment require greater sums to provide that care".

The data shows there was a reversal of the trend seen in 2018 when the overall amount awarded across the courts for personal injuries actually decreased by 19pc.

Other data in the report indicated the extent of the ­economic recovery last year with a 37pc decrease in ­possession orders made, a 24pc decrease in new possession cases lodged and greater engagement with personal insolvency mechanisms.

Speaking at the launch of the report yesterday in the Four Courts, Mr Justice Clarke noted 2019 now "seems like a different time".

He said the report would be used as a benchmark for how courts were before the ­pandemic. "The report for 2020 will undoubtedly be very different," he added.

The Chief Justice welcomed proposed legislative changes brought to Cabinet by ­Justice Minister Helen McEntee ­which, if passed by the Oireachtas, will allow for greater use of video technology in the courts.

It will permit, subject to certain safeguards, video link provisions to be expanded to include all accused persons, not just those in custody, and to allow for the holding of video link hearings by default in certain circumstances.

The bill envisages new types of applications to be heard via videolink, including arraignments, returns for trial, ­sentencing and certain aspects of surrender ­proceedings. It does not affect a person's right to be in court during their trial.

It will also allow for the electronic filing of documents in civil matters and for a "statement of truth" to be made and transmitted electronically instead of an affidavit or statutory declaration.

Mr Justice Clarke said the proposed changes were "very welcome" and would help the courts to work within Covid-19 restrictions and drive for modernisation.

Ms McEntee said the changes form part of a wider digital agenda she wants to pursue across the sector.

Irish Independent