As the Judicial Council prepares to discuss draft guidelines on firming up personal injury awards, entrepreneur Liam Griffin believes high cost of insurance is turning people off business and even compromising community spirit
As an All-Ireland-winning manager and owner of one of the world’s best hotel spas, Liam Griffin knows a thing or two about success.
His hotel company the Griffin Group – which includes the five-star Monart spa, Ferrycarrig Hotel and Hotel Kilkenny – has survived a recession and is now working to come out the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Wexford entrepreneur is largely positive about the future of his business – except when it comes to the issue of insurance costs and payouts for personal injury claims.
“Claims have always been an issue in hospitality and where they’re valid, they should be paid, but we’re also being impacted by claims that aren’t legitimate,” Mr Griffin said.
“We’ve a well-managed health and safety system, but it’s a bit like the pandemic in that you have some people who conform and some who don’t. We’re paying the price [with lockdown] for people who didn’t pay attention to the guidelines and it’s the same with insurance: we’re paying for those who are gaming the system.”
On February 20, the 166-member Judicial Council will meet again to discuss draft guidelines on the recalibration of personal injury awards. The Irish Independent revealed how awards for minor injuries would be cut by up to 50pc under proposals being examined.
Business groups and insurance reform campaigners say halving these awards won’t go far enough, and Mr Griffin agrees. He was recently appointed as chairman of an insurance sub-committee set up by the EY Entrepreneur of the Year alumni community. The group, made up of 550 EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists, believes insurance is turning people away from business.
“The payouts need to be changed to reflect international norms and 50pc just doesn’t cut it – it’s not enough.
“More questions need to be asked. Why are we paying so much compared to other countries? Why are we dishing out so much money for minor injuries? Who is benefiting? Because it’s not normal citizens and businesses. Harder questions need to be asked.
“In my own business, we have to pay out the first €50,000 on any claim and it’s unconscionable that we’re forced to do that.”
Insurance isn’t just affecting business. Griffin managed Wexford to All-Ireland hurling glory in 1996 and is still actively involved with GAA in the Model County, but he fears ‘compo culture’ is compromising community spirit.
“We’re putting a walking track around our pitch in Rosslare so that the local parents will have somewhere to bring their kids for exercise during lockdown, and when I brought up the issue the first thing people said was, ‘What about insurance and people coming in and falling?’, so that’s what it’s come to,” Griffin said.
“We can’t allow people to walk around our pitch without making them members because of insurance. We’re trying to provide facilities for the community and we’re being lashed out of it by insurance costs.”
Griffin employed 550 people at his three hotels before the pandemic. The Ferrycarrig Hotel near Wexford town and Hotel Kilkenny in Kilkenny city are popular wedding venues, which also bumps up the cost of insurance. People dancing, drinking and having a good time means increased risk in the eyes of insurers.
“Jobs in the hospitality sector are extremely vulnerable right now. When we open back up, insurance costs and compensation awards have to come down. Thousands of jobs depend on it,” he said.