Test challenge by Waterford woman against personal injury award guidelines dismissed

Mr Justice Charles Meenan rejected all grounds of the challenge including claims that the new guidelines were unconstitutional and amounted to encroachment on judicial independence. The judgement has major implications for the assessment of personal injury claims.

Many similar challenges against the guidelines have also been brought, and those actions had been awaiting the outcome of the test case.

The test action was taken against the State, and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) was taken by Bridget Delaney from Dungarvan in Co. Waterford. Her case focused on a vote taken in March 2021 by the Judicial Council, the body made up of all the State’s judges, to adopt the new guidelines.

PIAB, which is the government body that makes personal injury awards, and the State had opposed the action. The guidelines were drawn up by a committee of the Judicial Council, before being approved following a ballot of all the council’s members.

In her judicial review proceedings against PIAB, the Judicial Council, Ireland and the Attorney General, Ms Delaney had sought orders quashing the assessment PIAB made in respect of her claim, and the Judicial Council’s decision in March 2020 to adopt the new personal injuries guidelines.

Ruling

Mr Justice Meenan on Thursday rejected Ms Delaney’s claims her rights had been breached, and he also found that PIAB had acted in accordance with the relevant provisions of the 2003 PIAB Act when it assessed her personal injuries claim.

He said that Ms Delaney’s constitutional rights of property and bodily integrity and equality “did not encompass a right to a particular sum of damages”. The effect of the application of these principles is that the level of damages varies over time, he added.

The judge added that there are clear and well-established principles for the awarding of general damages. These principles provided that the level of damages is not only a matter between a plaintiff and a defendant, but also for society in general.

Economic, social, and commercial conditions must be considered in fixing levels of awards, he added. The judge said the 2019 Act establishing the Council clearly sets out “the principles and policies that were to be applied and followed by the committee that drew up the guidelines.”

That committee, the judge said, “methodically followed the principles and policies as directed by the Oireachtas in the 2019 Act.” and took expert legal and economic advice.

The committee was “not mandated to reduce the level of awards for less serious injuries no more than it was mandated to increase the level of awards for catastrophic injuries,” he added. The reduction of awards in the guidelines was “a result of the committee applying the provisions of the 2019 Act as it was obliged to do.”

The committee was entitled to fix levels of awards having regard to the level of awards in other jurisdictions, he said, adding that this was something provided for by the Act itself and the Supreme Court. Provision had been made for a court to depart from the guidelines on giving reasons, he said.

Such reasons, he added, must be “rational, cogent and justifiable.” Mr Justice Meenan said the 2019 Act made specific provision to preserve judicial independence.

Mrs Delaney’s claim

In her action, Mrs Delaney had claimed the new guidelines are unfair to persons who have suffered personal injuries.

She claimed PIAB delayed in assessing her injuries until the new guidelines were introduced, acted in breach of fair procedures, that her assessment should not have been conducted under the new guidelines and acted in breach of her legitimate expectations, it was claimed.

It was claimed the new guidelines and their adoption by the judicial council also failed to have adequate regard to awards made by the Irish Courts in personal injuries actions. She claimed she fractured a bone in her right ankle after she tripped and fell at a public footpath in Dungarvan on April 12, 2019.

She required medical treatment, physiotherapy and was given a walker boot for several weeks and alleges she sustained her injuries due to the negligence of Waterford City and Council. In June 2019, she submitted a claim to PIAB, seeking damages.

At the time, she claimed PIAB was required to have regard to the general guidelines as to the amounts that may be awarded or assessed in personal injury claims, contained in the Book of Quantum, when assessing her application and making an award.

She claimed the appropriate award for the injury she sustained ranged from between €18,000 and €34,000. In May 2021, PIAB assessed her claim as being worth €3,000 in general damages.

She rejects this assessment, saying it was insufficient, and does not compensate her for the injuries she sustained. The case will return before the courts for final orders, including issues concerning the costs of the action, at a later date.

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