New procedures to end inconsistency of whiplash compensation awards
A standardised scale measuring the severity of whiplash injuries is to be introduced to bring greater consistency to personal injuries awards.
The move was recommended in the first report of the Personal Injuries Commission, which detailed how awards for certain categories of claims in Ireland are much greater than in the UK.
Recommended awards for minor neck injuries can be up to €19,400 in Ireland compared to just €7,200 in the UK, while awards for severe neck injuries can range between €76,000 and €139,000 here, compared to just €59,974 and €119,638 across the water.
The report said whiplash accounts for a much greater proportion of claims here than in other countries EU countries such as France and Germany.
It said the Injuries Board estimated around 80pc of all motor injury claims relate to soft tissue injuries commonly described as whiplash.
The commission, chaired by former High Court president Nicholas Kearns, was established by the Government in response to concerns over spiralling insurance costs.
In its report, it called for the introduction by the middle of next year of an internationally recognised grading scale for soft tissue injuries previously developed by a task force in Canada. This is intended to bring greater consistency to the size of awards and reduce disputes over the severity of injuries, which can greatly add to legal costs.
The new guidelines will also be linked to future editions of the Book of Quantum, the guide referred to by the Injuries Board and the judiciary when deciding on the size of damages.
The report did not focus in great detail on compensation award levels, but said work would be done by the commission in future reports to benchmark awards levels internationally.
However, it stated comparisons indicate less severe injuries in Ireland tend to attract higher levels of damages than in England and Wales, a difference which gets less pronounced as the severity of the injury increases.
Insurance Ireland welcomed the report but said it would have liked to have seen the adoption of independent medical panels to assess injuries.
Its chief executive Kevin Thompson said such panels were commonplace across Europe and can assist in the assessment of awards in a non-adversarial manner.
A similar system is used by the Department of Social Protection for its disability benefit scheme.
However, the commission’s report said it was not recommending independent panels following legal advice from the Attorney General.
It was advised such a proposal would prohibit parties from using their own witnesses and would affect a claimant’s right to fair procedures and access to the courts, and their rights to present their own evidence and challenge that presented by the opposing party.