Personal injury claim against the restaurant chain was dismissed after the plaintiff failed to appear in court
Supermac’s chief Pat McDonagh has criticised the culture of settling disputed personal injury claims outside court, citing a seven-year legal battle over an incident that happened at his Eyre Square branch in Co Galway.
Mr McDonagh said there is “something very wrong with the system” when insurers and legal professionals are eager to settle claims before a court hearing in an attempt to avoid hefty legal costs or losing a case.
A personal injury claim against Supermac’s was dismissed in Galway Circuit Court last week after the plaintiff failed to appear.
Efforts had been made to settle the case, but Mr McDonagh turned them down as the accusations were denied and Supermac’s intended to defend the case in full.
The disputed incident happened in 2015, when the plaintiff claimed she slipped and fell on water or a “deleterious substance” and suffered a blunt trauma to her left knee joint and bruising to her left shin.
She went to the emergency department of the local hospital and an X-ray revealed she had not suffered any bone damage. After the incident, she claimed she was forced to abandon swimming and badminton, two of her favourite hobbies, because of the pain.
She attended her GP on a number of occasions in 2015 and said she was continuing to have knee pain.
After reviewing CCTV of the incident and speaking with the doorman who witnessed what happened, Supermac’s decided to defend the claim.
The fast-food chain now has an in-house solicitor working full-time on handling claims on behalf of the company
The company alleged there was negligence on behalf of the plaintiff, who had “failed to watch where she was going”, “failed to wear appropriate footwear”, “failed to exercise reasonable care for her own safety” and was “the author of her own misfortune”. It was also denied the incident happened in the manner claimed.
While costs were awarded in favour of Supermac’s after the plaintiff did not show up, Mr McDonagh said that in most cases defendants do not receive them, and described it as a “lose-lose situation”.
“I will never settle a claim where we believe we have evidence showing there wasn’t liability on our part,” he told the Irish Independent.
“The vast majority of cases are settled before it ever gets to court, or on the steps of the court. It’s as if there isn’t confidence in the legal system.
“Getting assessors, claims handlers and legals and all the extras, that all costs a lot of money and it all adds up”.
While Supermac’s was self-insured as it “worked out much cheaper”, it also became too time-consuming.
The fast-food chain now has an in-house solicitor working full-time on handling claims on behalf of the company.
Mr McDonagh, who has been a long-time campaigner for reduced insurance costs, said while Supermac’s can afford to defend claims where liability is denied, many businesses cannot and end up settling to avoid higher costs.
“Insurers know they’ve a better chance of getting their return back from the insured party if a case settles,” he said. “Even if they win the case after it goes to court, often they won’t get their costs.
“Going into court is going to cost them a lot of money, and they’re better off to try and settle it for what they might call ‘reasonable money’ outside of court.”
Mr McDonagh said premiums had risen by up to 25pc in the past year.
There have been major reforms in the insurance sector, particularly with the introduction of the new personal injury guidelines. The average award by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) between January and June last year was €14,786, down 38pc from before the guidelines were implemented.
However, some sectors are still struggling with astronomical insurance premiums.
Mr McDonagh believes the Government still has a lot of work to do.
“These pillars of society – solicitors and insurers – are using the system to benefit themselves. That’s really what’s driving insurance premiums,” he said.