All Change – New Personal Injuries Guidelines

22 March 2021

The eagerly awaited Personal Injuries Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) which form part of the Government’s Action Plan on Insurance were adopted by the Judicial Council on Saturday 6 March 2021. According to the Guidelines, their main aim is to promote “greater consistency in awards notwithstanding that cases will invariably have their own unique features.

Since the publication of the Book of Quantum in 2004, the Guidelines are a significant development in respect of quantifying damages in personal injury claims. Given that the Guidelines are expected to play a far more significant role in personal injuries litigation than the Book of Quantum has previously, it will be interesting to see how the Courts will apply them in practice going forward.

The Guidelines are set to replace the Book of Quantum, which was last updated in 2016.

Implementation of the Guidelines

On 9 March 2021, Justice Minister Helen McEntee secured cabinet approval to make the necessary amendments to the Judicial Council Act 2019 and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003. The changes will be brought forward through government amendments to the Family Leave Bill 2021 to ensure that the Guidelines can take legal effect “within weeks”.

Once implemented, the Guidelines will apply to all applications already made to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (“PIAB”) which have not yet reached assessment stage. However, they will not apply to cases where an assessment has been already been made or cases which are currently in the Court system, meaning that the full benefits of the Guidelines may not be seen for some time yet.

Book of Quantum v The New Guidelines

Although there are some similarities between the current Book of Quantum, the Guidelines comprise twelve categories with new sub-categorisations to include reference to psychological injuries, scarring cases and chronic pain.

The general criteria under the Guidelines to be considered by the Courts in assessing the appropriate level of award in each category / sub-category are factors such as age, reduction in life expectancy, nature and extent of the treatment, impact on work and prognosis.

Once enacted, it will be mandatory for Judges to make an assessment of damages in each case by having regard to the Guidelines. In situations where the Courts feel it necessary to depart from the Guidelines, their reasons for doing so must be clearly stated.

Multiple Injuries

Multiple injuries arising from the same accident may pose a difficulty as the Guidelines value each injury separately. In such circumstances, the approach to be taken by the trial judge is set out as follows:

1. To identify the most significant injury suffered by the claimant and the bracket of damages within the guidelines to which it applies.

2. Having done that the trial judge should then value that injury and uplift its value to ensure that the claimant is fairly and justly compensated for all the additional pain, discomfort and limitations arising from their lesser injuries or injury.

Extent of Reductions

The most significant departure from the Book of Quantum is in respect of the level of damages for “soft tissue” injuries and “minor” injuries i.e. where a full recovery has been made.

This is illustrated by the following comparisons in respect of wrist injuries and back injuries / soft tissue injuries, taken from the Guidelines and the Book of Quantum.

Wrist Injuries

Book of Quantum The Guidelines
Minor Up to €43,500 €500 – €18,000
Moderate €21,900 – €75,500 €20,000 – €40,000
Serious  €54,200 – €70,100 €40,000 – €60,000
Severe

€68,400 – €78,000

€60,000 – €80,000


Back injuries / soft tissue

Book of Quantum The Guidelines
Minor Up to €18,000 €500 – €12,000
Moderate €21,400 – €34,400 €20,000 – €35,000
Serious

€32,100 – €55,700

€33,000 – €55,000
Severe

€52,300 – €92,000

€50,000 – €140,000

As evident from the above comparisons, the changes between the Book of Quantum and the Guidelines are significant in terms of the damages that are likely to be awarded in respect of the different injuries. For example, a minor wrist injury commands up to €43,500 in the Book of Quantum whereas it is assessed at between €500 – €18,000 in the Guidelines.

A complete copy of the Guidelines can be found here

Conclusion

The Minister has advised that she will carry out a report on the implementation and initial impact of the Guidelines by the end of 2021. It is also reported that the Guidelines will be reviewed every three years. It will be interesting to see how the Courts will apply them in practice during that time given they are expected to play a more significant role in personal injuries litigation than the Book of Quantum has previously.

Even at this early stage, it is clear from the level of awards proposed in the Guidelines that significantly more cases will be heard in the District Court where the monetary jurisdiction is under €15,000, as opposed to the Circuit Court where the majority of these cases are heard at present.

Although not universally welcomed by business owners and while its’ impact on the level of claims and cost of insurance premiums will take some time to determine, the Guidelines are a welcome move towards greater clarity and consistency in the valuation of personal injury awards.

For further information regarding the above, please contact Rachel Solanki, Associate, Niamh O’Brien, Solicitor (nobrien@efc.ie) or another member of the dispute resolution department at Eugene F Collins.

 

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