A judge has adjourned a second approval hearing on the grounds that the injury settlement he had been asked to approve was a too low offer of compensation.
In November 2012, Harry Ryan (12) from Swords in County Dublin had been playing on a local green, when he slipped and badly cut his lower right leg on a piece of broken glass. Harry was taken to the local VHI Swift Care Clinic, where he had eight stitches under a local anaesthetic, and steri-strips applied to help his cut heal.
Through his mother – Ita – Harry made an injury compensation claim against Fingal County Council and a settlement of injury compensation was agreed amounting to €3,000 without an admission of liability. As the claim was made on behalf of a child, the settlement had to be approved before the claim could be closed.
However, at the Circuit Civil Court last week, Judge James O´Donohoe refused to approve the settlement as he considered it too low an offer of compensation in relation to Harry´s injury. He adjourned the case for a week so that the two parties could reconsider the settlement, and a second approval hearing was scheduled for yesterday.
At the second approval hearing, Mr Justice Raymond Groarke was told that the offer of compensation had been increased to €3,500. Harry´s barrister told Judge Groarke that he was conscious of the recent dismissal of a similar claim in the High Court and that Fingal County Council had prepared a full defence if the claim went to a full hearing.
Having inspected the scar on Harry´s leg, Judge Groarke said that the value of the proposed settlement was still a too low offer of compensation. The judge said that an appropriate settlement should amount to €30,000 and he adjourned the case for another week so that Harry´s solicitor could assess the risk of taking the claim to a full court hearing.
Judges refusing to approve settlements when a too low offer of compensation has been made is happening more frequently. Insurance companies often encourage plaintiffs to accept inappropriate offers for their own financial gain. If you have received an offer of settlement, which you believe may be a too low offer of compensation, you should seek professional legal advice.
A story in the Irish Independent today says that the value of compensation awards in Ireland saw an increase of 22 percent in the first six months of 2014 compared with 2013.
Conor Pope of the Irish Independent writes that €144 million was paid to claimants between January and July – the rise being attributable to a spike in claims being received during 2013, and those claims being resolved in the first half of this year.
Pope notes that that the overall number of compensation claims for injuries made in the first six months of 2014 is slightly down on 2013, and speculates that this is due to the economic recovery. He reported that the average value of compensation awards in Ireland is €22,000, with claims following motor accidents accounting for three-quarters of the total received.
A similar report in the Irish Times analysed where the increase in compensation awards in Ireland had materialised from; with Brian Byrne identifying a year-on-year increase in public liability claims of 30 percent, motor liability claims up 24 percent and employer liability claims up 10 percent.
Byrne also reported on concerns regarding an estimated 40 percent of personal injury claims which are settled directly between claimants and insurers. He wrote that insurance companies should make public compensation awards in Ireland that are settled “behind closed doors” in order that there is visibility on competitiveness, premiums and on false or exaggerated claims.
What neither newspaper article touches upon is the practise of “third party capture”, in which insurance companies try to lowball accident victims with inappropriate settlements of compensation before the victim has had the opportunity to speak with a solicitor. There is also a growing trend – particularly with claims against the HSE (also not mentioned in either newspaper article) – for solicitors to negotiate a settlement “on the steps of the High Court”.
One possible solution for increasing the visibility of compensation awards in Ireland would be to build a register based on the government´s new “Recovery of Certain Benefits and Assistance Scheme” which was launched in August. As insurance companies now have to obtain a certificate of benefits from the Department of Social Protection before settling injury compensation claims, it should not be too difficult for the DSP to compile data relating to the accurate value of compensation awards in Ireland.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland has published a report on Third Party Capture that highlights the problems with the practice and calls for greater protection for the general public. Third Party Capture happens when insurance companies to offer claimants or even potential claimants compensation for an accident before they are able to engage with a solicitor or obtain medical evidence.
The specific issues that the Law Society has identified are:
Wrong information being given to injured parties of the extent of their injuries and their legal
Actively discouraging injured parties from seeking a medical opinion and report;
Actively discouraging injured parties from obtaining legal advice; and
Pressurising injured parties who have not yet recovered from their injuries to make decisions
through persistent phone calls and door stepping at their home.
One of the unexpected results of the introduction of the Injuries Board Ireland is that insurance companies have become faster in general at offering out-of-court settlements for personal injury claims. The report points out that victims should never settle a case without getting a medical report and it is preferable to get legal advice before settling any personal injury claims.