The Government and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) have welcomed a High Court judgment that rejected a legal challenge to the Personal Injuries Guidelines.
The case was taken by Bridget Delaney, who was awarded €3,000 by PIAB for injuries sustained after a fall in Dungarvan, Co Waterford in 2019.
She had been advised that, based on the Book of Quantum, her injuries would attract general damages of €18,000 to €34,000.
The reduction in the value of her claim was due to the fact that the new guidelines, rather than the Book of Quantum, applied.
The woman challenged the legal basis for the drawing up and passing of the guidelines, and also maintained that PIAB erred in law in assessing the value of her injuries under the guidelines, and not the Book of Quantum.
Mr Justice Charles Meenan, however, said that the applicant’s constitutional rights of property, bodily integrity, and equality did not encompass a right to a particular sum of damages but, rather, a right to have her damages assessed in accordance with well-established legal principles.
“The effect of the application of these principles is that the level of damages varies over time,” the judge said.
He also found that economic, social and commercial conditions had to be taken into account in fixing levels of awards.
Mr Justice Meenan added that the committee of judges that drew up the guidelines “methodically followed the principles and policies as directed by the Oireachtas” under the Judicial Council Act 2019.
“The reduction of awards in the guidelines was a result of the committee applying the provisions of the act of 2019, as it was obliged to do,” he continued, adding that the body was also entitled to take into account the level of awards in other jurisdictions.
Law Society personal-injury expert Stuart Gilhooly SC said that the ruling was not particularly surprising.
“The constitutional challenge always faced an uphill battle to be successful,” he said.
The result should be the removal of the last remaining excuse for the insurance industry to substantially reduce premiums, he added.
“This, however, is unlikely, given that the level of damages has never been the cause of high premiums, and has merely been used as a shield for profiteering,” he said.
“No doubt more, increasingly creative reasons will be provided why it is all someone else’s fault,” the senior counsel added.
In a statement, PIAB said that the judgment removed uncertainty, and brought greater clarity on the application of the guidelines.
Minister of State Seán Fleming, who is responsible for insurance, also welcomed the ruling, describing it as “an important step” that would have a lasting impact on the price of insurance premiums.
The minister with responsibility for PIAB, Robert Troy, also welcomed the judgment.
“The guidelines have brought much-needed consistency and transparency to personal-injury awards,” he said.