Solicitors report a changed environment since the introduction of new guidelines on personal injuries but still express surprise at Government figures which show a 50 per cent reduction in the level awards just over eleven weeks after the new system came into force.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told a media briefing today that the preliminary findings of a new report from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) found there had been a substantial reduction in the amount of awards since the introduction of new guidelines on personal injuries on April 24th.
According to Mr Varadkar and Minister of State for Insurance, Seán Fleming, the PIAB data indicates that since the introduction of the new personal injuries guidelines, approved by the Judicial Council, some 78 per cent of awards are now €15,000 or less compared to 30 per cent of awards in 2020.
But Eamonn Fleming of Fleming and Barrett Solicitors in Bandon, West Cork expressed surprise that the Government has been able to present such data so quickly given that the new Personal Injuries Guidelines only came into effect just over eleven weeks ago.
“I think there’s a certain amount of kite flying here by the Government, coming out so soon after the change in the guidelines which came into play on April 24th - the last official PIAB report in 2019 said the actual waiting time for the delivery of claims was 7.8 months,” he said.
“Very few claims would have been resolved or offers made by the Injuries Board since the new guidelines came into effect - I just can’t see how many of them would have been done in time since April so let’s give it time to bed in and see what happens in the long run.”
Sean Cahill of CW Ashe in Macroom was also somewhat sceptical about the Government claims so soon after the change but acknowledged that the new Personal Injuries Guidelines were having an impact on offers and awards from the Personal Injuries Assessment Board.
“My experience of PIAB in the last 12 months is that they are not making decisions, they are not giving awards - they obviously knew this change in the guidelines was coming down the track but I’ve found the output from PIAB over the last 12 months has been practically zilch.”
Mr Cahill said one of the issues that he and other solicitors was finding is that the new guidelines are being applied retrospectively - something he suspects may be open to legal challenge as it is having a clear impact on cases dating back almost a year or more.
“I have a case from June 2020 where four people were injured in a car crash - they were totally in the right and the application was lodged in September 2020 but I’ve heard nothing from PIAB and now the new guidelines will apply even though it happened well before they came into effect.
“I had another case just before Christmas where a client was rear-ended and I got the application in very quickly - it was a whiplash type of injury and very genuine and in the normal course, I would expect between €12,000 and €15,000 but the insurance company offered me €3,000.”
Mr Cahill said that the change in the guidelines means that the insurance industry was now “holding all the aces” and another Cork solicitor, who didn’t wish to be named, made a similar point given his experience dealing with insurers over personal injury claims in recent months.
‘Siberia out there’
“There is savage pressure on now from insurance companies - even if an accident predates the new guidelines, they are adjudicating under the new figures and say: ‘This is what we are going to offer and if you don’t want to take it, we will let it go to court and you can take your chances’.
“If they tender it and make you an offer and you fail to beat that offer you when you go to court, you can get caught for both sets of costs - insurance companies are just cutting loose and it’s Siberia out there for plaintiffs and their solicitors at the moment.”
Midleton solicitor, Ken Murray agreed, saying the new guidelines has strengthened the hand of the insurance industry even when dealing with older claims but he admitted to still being surprised the government was able to produce such dramatically different figures so quickly.
“I don’t know how they are coming up with these figures unless they are calculating the figures for April and May this year compared to April and May last year - that said, there has been a real sea change and the defence industry have a very definite spring in their step these days.”