Guidelines slashing awards for mostly minor personal injuries are contributing to a sharp drop in the quantity of High Court personal injury claims, according to new figures.
Data from the Courts Service shows new personal injury claims initiated in the High Court averaged 223 per month in the first nine months of last year, about one-third of the 666 monthly average for 2019.
The figures prompted a renewed demand on Monday by the Alliance for Insurance Reform (AIR) for insurers to pass on the benefits of the “dramatic” reduction in claims to policy holders.
Since the introduction in April 2021 of the guidelines, following approval by the Judicial Council, awards for personal injuries have fallen by as much as 50 per cent. The effect, as the latest figures underline, is that fewer cases are being initiated.
AIR director Peter Boland sought information from Courts Service CEO Angela Denning last month about the impact of the guidelines on personal injury cases in the High Court.
Earlier this month, the CEO’s office told him that the ministerial announcement that the guidelines would begin on April 24th, 2021 prompted “a spike” of new applications to the High Court in the weeks before they came into effect. The number of applications averaged just under 280 per month for the rest of 2021.
Personal injuries applications commencing in the High Court last year were being issued less frequently following the commencement of the guidelines, the letter said.
A total of 2,007 claims commenced in the High Court in the year to the end of September 2022, an average of 223 per month, compared with 280 per month from May to December 2021.
The number of personal injuries actions in the Circuit Court was down by 12 per cent in 2021, the letter noted.
Data concerning personal injuries actions in the District and Circuit Courts for last year will be available in the middle of the year. Case management systems being progressed under the Courts Service modernisation programme will allow for more in-depth analysis of the impact of the guidelines, the letter said.
Mr Boland said: “Regardless of the reasons for this dramatic reduction in claims, they are generating very substantial savings within the personal injuries regime.
“These savings are not accruing to liability insurance policy holders so they can only be accruing to liability insurers. This is a matter of serious concern for the Government and its insurance reform agenda.”
The Government, he urged, “must apply intense pressure on incumbent insurers to pass these benefits on”.
Solicitor and senior counsel Stuart Gilhooly said he was “not at all surprised” about the drop in High Court personal injury claims. It is down to several factors, including the guidelines and the fall in overall personal injury claims numbers in the past few years, he said.
He said he expects it will be 2024 before the impact of the guidelines can be properly assessed as pre-guideline cases are continuing to work their way through the courts.
“People seem less inclined to bring claims because damages are much lower and they are finding it harder to get solicitors to take cases, not so much in the High Court but in the Circuit and District Courts,” he said. “There is a definite access-to-justice issue, it is just not economic any more for smaller solicitors to take these cases.”