Overview of High Court Personal Injury Cases

High court personal injury cases are heard for various reasons; where the issue of liability is in question; where a fair and accurate compensation settlement cannot be easily resolved; when the case is legally complex. Additionally, having a claim heard in the high court is often the logical next step when contributory negligence is involved.

In the majority of personal injury compensation claims every effort will be made to come to a settlement figure which is acceptable to both parties without the need of taking the matter to the high court. In fact, over eighty per cent of personal injury cases do not go to court because they are successfully settled in advance, meaning that when the defendant offers the victim a certain amount of money to settle the case out of court, the victim finds the amount satisfactory and accepts.

The Injuries Board’s Role

Although some exceptions exist (medical negligence being a good example) high court personal injury cases do not begin in the court, but through the Injuries Board Ireland. This is a government entity which evaluates the amount of compensation due to an injured party. If the person you named as responsible for your accident does not consent to the Injuries Board assessing your compensation claim, the Board will issue you with an Authorisation to pursue your claim through court.

With the consent of the negligent party, your claim would be assessed by referring to the medical evidence you provided from your doctor and a report provided by an independent doctor appointed by the Injuries Board – if required. The evaluation of the damages due is made by regarding the injuries you suffered and your circumstances. If the assessment is carried out but either side rejects the award suggested, the matter can then be referred to the courts.

Out of Court Settlements

As previously mentioned, most high court personal injury cases in Ireland are settled in advance; before the trial date or sometimes on the day of the trial.

If the negligent party wishes to offer you money to end your claim and you are willing to settle your case out of court, your solicitor will arrange negotiations with the defendant’s legal representatives before the date of the trial in a settlement meeting.

Your solicitor will explain the advantages and disadvantages of accepting the offer made by the defendant and will inform you on how successful you are likely to be at trial and how much compensation you may receive in court.

If obtaining a satisfactory settlement is impossible, you can choose to proceed to court.

Choosing a Solicitor

It is highly recommended that you engage a solicitor to aid with your application to the Injuries Board and to enter negotiations if necessary, and ultimately to represent you in high court personal injury cases.

If you have been involved in an accident that resulted in serious injuries, the solicitor you consult will need to know;

  • All of the circumstances surrounding the accident, including facts that you may think unimportant
  • All of the injuries you sustained as a result of the accident
  • All of the expenses you have incurred as a result of the accident

In relation to high court cases, fighting medical negligence and industrial disease claims will always call for specialist legal advice.

There is a risk associated with taking a compensation claim before a judge and it must be noted that high court personal injury cases do not always rule in favour of the plaintiff. Selecting a specialist solicitor can make all the difference, not only to the possibility of success of the trial but also to the amount of damages that are eventually awarded.

In professional, medical or legal cases a high court personal injury compensation solicitor will be required to present a case not based on fact but on opinion. They will try to determine that “on the balance of all probability” a professional neglected their duty of care and that their action or lack of action caused injury or loss.

The High Court Case

The structure of high court personal injury cases is influenced by whether or not the defendant admits their responsibility for your injuries.

If the defendant does not admit blame, the trial will follow this format:

  • The plaintiff’s barrister will outline to the judge the circumstance of the case and the injuries you experienced
  • A doctor will give medical evidence, if relevant
  • The plaintiff will be called to the witness box to give evidence about how the accident occurred and their injuries. They will be cross-examined by the defendant’s barrister
  • All the witnesses on the plaintiff’s side will give evidence and will be cross-examined by the defendant’s barrister
  • All the defendant’s witnesses will give evidence and will be cross-examined by the plaintiff’s barrister
  • Both barristers may make submissions to the judge

The judge will then make his or her decision according to whether the defendant was to blame as they would therefore liable to pay the plaintiff damages, how much in damages the plaintiff is entitled to and who shall pay the costs of court proceedings.

If the defendant has been found negligent and therefore to blame for the plaintiff’s injuries but the plaintiff is dissatisfied with how much was offered as settlement, the matter will be sent to a separate court for judgment purely on the amount of damages.

Examples of When High Court Action is Necessary

Road traffic accidents that may seem straightforward can sometimes be brought up as high court personal injury cases. For example, if a driver has been proven to have been negligent in an accident and has already been fined and given penalty points in a lower court but compensation has not been agreed on, the plaintiff may have to take the matter to the highest level in order to receive the highest appropriate compensation.

High court procedure may need to be taken when an employee has contracted a serious/terminal disease in the workplace but the illness has taken many years to manifest. For example, asbestos related diseases can take decades to develop and during the intervening time the business they worked for may have ceased trading. The problem often lies with insurance companies being ordered to pay compensation but who subsequently withhold the payment on the basis that the claim was prompted by the onset of disease rather than exposure to dangerous substances such as asbestos.

In medical negligence cases where there is doubt whether liability for death or serious injury exists, high court action is often pursued. Such claims can be difficult to prove, especially with operations where there is a fundamental risk involved, or with complicated births when injury or death may have been unpreventable according to the attending obstetrician.

In many cases, the possibility of a long drawn out legal fight and the costs attributed to one may make it worthwhile for a third party to settle the claim out of court, rather than risk the significant additional costs when taking the matter to court. It is the costs of a high court personal injury compensation claim which is often a major concern in a large number of cases; failure at this point will certainly have financial consequences for the plaintiff.

Concerns and Interim Payments

A number of plaintiffs are not so much worried about the expenses associated with high court personal cases, but the length of time that it may take to receive settlement. In cases where serious injury or illness is involved and there is a rapidly increasing medical bill, a drawn out high court claim can place considerable financial strain on the plaintiff.

However, in cases where negligence has been officially acknowledged and it is just a matter of deciding and agreeing on the final settlement which is to be paid, it may be possible to get an “interim payment”. Even where negligence has been denied, interim payments may be applicable when the case is particularly strong.

Such payments are arranged to cover continuing medical costs, transport to improve mobility or fitting a home with relevant equipment. Interim payments are believed necessary in cases where an employer does not have a sick pay scheme in place, for example, and an employee must take leave in order to recover but without payment, or when recovery and rehabilitation has exceeded the highest allowable claim period.

High Court Personal Injury Cases: Conclusion

  • High court personal injury cases are commonly brought forth when liability is denied, when an adequate settlement cannot be reached and in the most complex situations
  • Most personal injury cases are initially assessed by the Injuries Board Ireland
  • It is possible for claims to be settled out of court; in fact 80 per cent of personal injury claims are settled before the trial date
  • Interim payment are possible in certain cases

If you have been injured in an accident for which you were not to blame and you believe you may have a viable personal injury compensation claim, it would be in your best interest to speak with a personal injury compensation solicitor at the first moment possible. In the initial consultation that most solicitors offer without charge, your solicitor could evaluate your case, determine whether or not it is worth pursuing and can advise if there is the possibility of high court action.