Judge rejects challenge to €11,000 award under new personal injury guidelines

20 June 2022

A hospital catering assistant has lost her challenge to an assessment under new guidelines of €11,000 in general damages for soft tissue injuries suffered after an oven fell on her.

Tara Wolfe (40) claimed the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Piab) failed to give sufficient reasons for the proposed amount to be awarded for injuries to her shoulder, lower back and leg suffered while at work on December 26th, 2018.

The award was made by the board in June 2021 under the new guidelines which have slashed awards for minor personal injuries by up to 50 per cent.

The guidelines, which came into force in April 2021, were subject to a separate legal challenge which was dismissed by the High Court earlier this month.

Bridget Delaney, from Dungarvan, Co Waterford, took the case over Piab’s assessment under the new guidelines of a €3,000 award for an ankle fracture when, she claimed, it should have been assessed under the previous book of quantum rules for between €12,000 and €21,000 more.

Her case against Piab and various State parties concerned the constitutionality of the guidelines.

In ruling on Ms Wolfe’s case on Friday, Ms Justice Miriam O’Regan refused to quash Piab’s assessment and require it to reconsider the application and provide written reasons concerning its use and application of the guidelines. The judge said there is no express term in the guidelines themselves that requires a written explanation to such effect. Such justifications are only necessary when the board has departed from the guidelines.

There was no statutory requirement to explain the rationale for arriving at the decision in this case, as it was clear to the judge that the guidelines were applied. Ms Justice O’Regan said the complaint must then be assessed in accordance with the general constitutional principles of fair procedure and the provision of reasons.

Ms Wolfe, of Donard Drive, Dublin, had available to her all of the documents Piab had relied upon in making its decision, said the judge.

The case arises from an incident at the Mater hospital in Dublin. Ms Wolfe claims that, while cleaning a heavy oven in the hospital kitchen, it fell on her due to not being properly secured to the wall. She alleges she had to hold it and push it back, supporting its weight for about a minute before managing to push it from her torso.

In her High Court challenge against Piab, Ms Wolfe also complained there was no reason given as to how and why the dominant injury was considered to be her back and why it was categorised as “minor”. Having noted two doctors’ reports on the woman’s injuries, Ms Justice O’Regan said there was “ample medical evidence” for Piab to come to its rational conclusion that the dominant injury was her back.

The judge further held that the prospect of an adverse costs order were she to reject the award and apply to the courts is “not novel or exceptional”. Ms Wolfe had alleged that the possibility of being ordered to pay the defendant’s court costs if the award made by the court was not greater than Piab’s amounted to a “chilling effect”.

Ms Justice O’Regan refused all of the reliefs sought.

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