The Injuries Board is a body set up by the Government in 2004 as a response to Ireland’s “claims culture” and was intended to reduce the cost of insurance. It’s introduction was driven by the insurance industry.
What does the Board do ? The Board makes an assessment of the value of the loss suffered by a person injured in an accident in the hope that the parties involved will not have to go to Court. The theory is that anyone who has suffered an injury can obtain a medical report, submit an application to the Injuries Board themselves and rely on the Board to provide an assessment in relation to their loss quickly and efficiently. There should be no need for lawyers, accountants, engineers or others who the insurance industry perceive as costly and troublesome.
Has the establishment of Injuries Board speeded up the completion of cases? In my view, no. It has always been the case that straight forward accident cases would be resolved within 12 to 18 months which is approximately the timeframe allowed by the Injuries Board under it’s own rules to finalise cases. In more complex cases, the mandatory processing of cases through the Injuries Board can serve to delay completion of the case because the Injuries Board is constrained in dealing with cases where liability is disputed or cases involving complicated injuries. This means that it now takes longer to get a case into the Court system and to bring about a final resolution in the case.
When determining the value of an injury, do Judges follow the Injuries Board’s guidelines or do Injuries Board assessors follow Judges rulings ? The answer is, a bit of both. The Board’s assessors value cases by reference to it’s “Book of Quantum”. This was prepared in 2004 and sets out a range of approximate values for various types of injury. I would suggest that this book is now quite out of date being based on a review of case values in 2004 and before. Judges are supposed to have regard to the values in the book. In practice, I have found that Judges tend to do what they have always done and form their own view. Court awards of damages in contested cases are often higher than the Injuries Board assessments.
The Injuries Board was supposed to be a lawyer free zone, has that been the case ? No. Why ? Because the subject matter is generally beyond most peoples day to day experience. Most people do not know how the system works or whether an assessment is good or bad in their particular case. Most people do not know how an assessment would compare with a possible Court award. For those reasons, most people consult a solicitor.
If an injured party decides to use a solicitor, who pays for the solicitor ? Usually, the claimant does. In some limited cases, the Board will make a contribution towards legal fees incurred by an applicant but that is the exception rather than the rule.
If the intention in establishing the Injuries Board was to reduce the cost of insurance, has it worked ? Well, what do you think ? Has the cost of insuring your car come down ? Is the Public Liability element of your household or workplace insurance cheaper than it was ? Are there fewer claims now than before 2004 ? Insurance Companies have sought changes to the Personal Injuries system through the years that have made no appreciable difference to the cost of insurance. You may remember that not too long ago we had juries deciding on the levels of compensation in injury cases. Juries were abolished for personal injury cases at the request of the insurance industry because they were perceived as being too generous. The juries went but the levels of compensation remained the same. After that, there were changes in the rules relating to legal costs and, in particular, in relation to Barristers fees in injury cases. These changes did not have the desired effect either. Then the Injuries Board was introduced. It may have contributed to an improvement in the insurance market but it is not clear that it has. The real way to reduce the cost of insurance is to reduce the number of accidents. This requires higher levels of training in the work place and greater safety consciousness in all aspects of our daily lives. Prevention is certainly better and cheaper than the cure!
By Colm O’Rourke
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