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Injuries Board needs attention

THE performance of the Injuries Board will be stoutly defended once again today by its executives, despite statistics that would appear to question its effectiveness.

When the Personal Injuries Assessment Board was first mooted, it was described as a "fatally flawed project" by then senior counsel, Rory Brady. He anticipated that, far from reducing costs it would "add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and expense".

Championed by Mary Harney, the then Tanaiste and Enterprise Minister, PIAB was intended to speed up the processing of personal injury claims and end rampant fraud.

The new body did shake up an out-of-control claims culture and provided an alternative to the expensive and slow courts system. However, by doing that, did it fulfil the prediction that it would simply create an overly bureaucratic parallel system?

Increasingly, claimants are taking their cases back to the courts where higher awards -- and, perhaps more importantly, legal costs -- are granted.

Also, the scheme, which was to reduce soaring insurance premiums fuelled by exaggerated claims, is often abandoned by claimants tired of waiting for their cases to be dealt with. The prospect of increased insurance costs will also raise questions about the board's effectiveness.

For its part, the board's executives maintain it has cut down on the number of lengthy legal battles. Against this, yesterday's Court Service annual report tells us that 6,000 High Court summonses were issued last year -- double the number the previous year. The Circuit Court heard an additional 7,000 cases.

The Injuries Board maintains it has saved two-thirds of personal injury claims from unnecessary litigation. Yet the Court Service report tells us that the number of personal injury cases that came before the High Court in 2007 represented a 700pc increase on 2005.

The pattern of personal injury claims cries out for closer study. If the Injuries Board did not exist, would the courts be busier today than they were, say, five years ago?

Would the number of claims before the courts have mushroomed even more dramatically than they have done?

An independent report, free of the attentions of lawyers or insurance companies, could tell us much about the effectiveness of the Injuries Board.

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