Personal Injury Backlog Needs to be addressed

Barrister's Wig

26 June 2020

“The claims causing me most concern are those amongst the 320 cases which would have settled had it not been necessary to adjourn them,” said Ms Justice Irvine.

The new president of the High Court has urged lawyers, insurers and others involved in personal injury actions to hold settlement negotiations as the courts have been unable to deal with hundreds of cases due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine made the intervention after the backlog in unheard injury cases since mid-March hit 320.

Although the vast majority of such cases usually get settled without a hearing, settlement talks tend to occur only close to or sometimes on the day for which a hearing is set.

The judge said that because of this practice, cases were left “in limbo” as they were neither being fought nor settled.

While the volume of cases being dealt with across the courts is much less than normal, personal injury actions have been among the hardest hit due to difficulties accommodating cases with witnesses.

The judge said approximately 97pc of all personal injury claims were settled and of those which reach the doors of the court, 89pc settle with only 11pc going to contested hearings. She said she was urging parties to hold negotiations in the same way as they would have done if their case had been listed for hearing.

The 320 cases will be listed for a series of remote call overs in late July to see what progress has been made and to give directions for those that have not settled.

“The claims causing me most concern are those amongst the 320 cases which would have settled had it not been necessary to adjourn them,” said Ms Justice Irvine.

“In those cases, the plaintiffs have been held out of the money they would have received as result of such settlements. And, as we all know, delay in litigation of this nature can cause great economic hardship or even unwarranted additional mental or physical suffering.”

She said many plaintiffs with serious injuries were unable to work and needed their compensation to replace their earnings or to pay for medical treatment or care. She said she was not asking defendants to settle claims where they contested liability or believed the sum claimed to be excessive or even possibly fraudulent.

The judge also said she was not asking any defendant who intended to settle to pay anything more than they would have agreed on a hearing date.

If successful, Ms Justice Irvine’s intervention could wipe out much of the backlog.

She was appointed president of the High Court last week and chairs the judicial committee examining injury award guidelines. A number of her judgments in the Court of Appeal helped push down High Court award levels.

According to courts and company data provider Courtsdesk, some 2,574 matters listed for the High Court have been adjourned since April 14.

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