Court of Appeal examine damages in personal injuries case in Ireland

The case of Sarah Quinn v Rafal Masivlaniec and Kamila Stanczk[1] concerned a claim for compensation in respect of injuries to the Plaintiff’s bowel and right wrist as well as psychological injury following a road traffic accident. The bowel injury required surgical management and the wrist injury required orthopaedic repair. The Plaintiff was left with a scar at the site of abdominal surgery.

The trial judge in the High Court awarded €210,000 by way of general damages and €9,750 in respect of special damages.

The matter was appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Defendant’s grounds of appeal included, inter alia, the amount of general damages awarded and the trial judge’s calculation exercise.

The Court of Appeal substituted an award of €184,750 (€175,000 in respect of general damages and €9,750 in respect of special damages) in place of the €219,750 award made by the trial judge.

On review, it was noted by the Court of Appeal that the trial judge had not explained the precise engagement with the evidence which led him to the conclusions he had arrived at, for example, he did not explain what elements of the oral and documentary evidence led him to fix on certain amounts as being appropriate for the injuries. There was also a subtraction exercise carried out by the trial judge due to ‘a degree of overlap’ between the injuries. However, the trial judge had not explained why he chose a figure as the appropriate figure to subtract. There was also an amount which was unaccounted for and the court was left simply to deduce that some of this figure was to compensate the Plaintiff for certain injuries.

In addition, the trial judge had awarded €50,000 due to the ‘horrendous’ nature of the accident. The Court of Appeal noted that this element of damages amounted to an error of law on the part of the trial judge and was not allowed to stand.

It was found that the trial judge erred, inter alia, in failing to set out the evidential basis for his award of general damages and/or in failing to give reasons for the figures he arrived at.

While the appeal was allowed, the Court of Appeal noted that the less than twenty five percent differential[2] between what the trial judge awarded and what the Court of Appeal awarded may be a basis, firstly, for no order as to costs to be made against the Plaintiff in the appeal and furthermore, might be a platform upon which the Plaintiff could argue that she should be entitled to some portion of her costs in the appeal. Accordingly, the parties were invited to make their submissions on costs.

While this case relates to the Book of Quantum which has been replaced by the Personal Injuries Guidelines, the Court of Appeal dicta for the assessment of damages follows a similar rationale to that set out in the new Guidelines. The Guidelines seek to achieve greater consistency in the level of damages awarded for personal injuries. It is mandatory for the Court to make its assessment having regard to the Guidelines subject to the proviso that where there is a departure, the considerations which warranted that departure should be detailed. In multiple injury cases such as the above, the appropriate approach under the Guidelines is to identify the injury and the bracket of damages within the Guidelines that best resembles the most significant of injuries. The trial judge should then value that injury and thereafter uplift the value to ensure fair compensation for the pain, discomfort and limitations arising from the lesser injuries.

[1] [2021] IECA 247

[2] See Rossiter v Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and Reddy v Bates

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