On Tuesday 26 March, Patricia Byron, CEO of the Injuries Board, gave an interview on RTÉ’s flagship news programme, Morning Ireland, to discuss the most recent statistics revealed by her organisation’s annual report. While her comments have been reported largely without challenge by the mainstream media, various aspects of her performance have led to considerable comment online. In my view, it ranks as one of the more bizarre performances by the head of a statutory body for some time.
Ms Byron bemoaned the increase in claims of 5% in the preceding 12 months that were processed through her offices at the Injuries Board and opined that it reflected an “emerging claims culture”. Now, firstly, let us remind ourselves that, for claims to be assessed through PIAB, there must be agreement between the parties for assessment or, at the very least, a failure to contest that assessment. Therefore, there appears to be no suggestion that any of these claims referred to by Ms Byron were other than legitimate claims for damages arising out of injury.
Secondly, Ms Byron is CEO of a statutory body mandated to process legitimate personal injury claims made to it. Her comments, therefore, seem to represent a clear annoyance and disappointment that more people are availing of the service she and her organisation are commissioned to provide by law.
That is not all, however. Ms Byron, when challenged on that particular point, indicated her deep concern that “thoughts were being put in people’s heads” to pursue their claims.
Now let us for a moment ignore the frankly condescending attitude to claimants implicit in such language and focus on the substance of her complaint. What she really objects to is that, through the nefarious influence of third parties, individuals are now more aware of their entitlement to bring claims for compensation for injuries sustained through the negligence of others. She would, one can only deduce, much prefer it if these individuals remained blissfully unaware of their entitlements and suffered their injuries in silence in order to keep the claims statistics low.
Surely the head of the Injuries Board was able to adduce data to substantiate her allegations of claims harvesting? Well, not quite. She, not for the first time, referred to “anecdotal evidence”, which reminded one of the words of Lionel Hutz [lawyer in The Simpsons]: “Hearsay and conjecture are kinds of evidence.”
This, from a well-paid State appointee on the national airwaves, is nothing short of pathetic.
The most puzzling aspect of all of this is why she is concerned at all. Surely speculating on an “emerging claims culture” and scaremongering about insurance premium rises does not form part of her remit. Ms Byron’s role under the 2003 PIAB Act is to “carry on and manage and control, generally, the administration of the board”. Tilting at windmills does not appear within her job specification. She must, however, be doing a good job. How else can one explain the ‘bonus’ of €31,000 awarded in 2010?
If one had tuned in late, one would have been forgiven for thinking that the comments on Morning Ireland were made from a representative of one of the State’s large insurance companies. They were not. They were from the independent head of the State’s personal injury claims processing body. Truly bizarre!