Compensation culture is a negative term that we hear brandished about on a regular basis. It is used to suggest that a significant number of claims for compensation are fraudulent, unjustified and that those who seek compensation should be criticised.
Most recently, the term has reared its ugly head again in the midst of debates about the levels of compensation being awarded by our Courts.
Motorists are being hammered with rising insurance premiums. Rather than carrying out a detailed analysis into the profits of the Insurance companies, the innocent, injured “ordinary” victims are being targeted. They are being judged and penalised for bringing a claim and for seeking to get the best and appropriate compensation possible.
Minister Noonan was quoted as saying,
“a greater number of people are taking their case to the High Court, rather than the Circuit Court, in a bid to get a larger pay-out.”
“This reportedly leads to cases taking longer to settle and increased cost per claim,"
It is disheartening to see that the Minister has not commented on whether these victims received a “larger pay-out” because they deserved it, or whether they needed it to compensate them for loss of earnings, future medical expenses or quite simply their pain and suffering. It is easy to seek to penalise victims but some people have an innate sense of fairness, and in particular take the view that victims who suffer catastrophic injuries should be adequately compensated.
Minister Richard Bruton recently called for a revision of the Book of Quantum. The Book of Quantum sets out guideline amounts for compensation in respect of particular injuries. A revision of this Book is a welcome development. When the Book was introduced twelve years ago, there were assurances by Government that the Book would be kept updated but this has not happened. . The Book itself sets out that the content will be kept under review. It is now disturbing to note that the Minister is seeking for a revision downwards given that Commentators, including Judges have noted that the Book is not reflective of the awards being given and have suggested that it be updated.
I recently represented a 78-year-old woman who fractured her hip after a slip and fall in Dunnes Stores in Clonakilty, Co Cork. The woman was awarded €20,000 in the High Court to compensate her for pain in the future. The Judge who heard the case in the High Court indicated that he had felt “somewhat constrained by the Book of Quantum” when deciding the amount of compensation. The Court of Appeal increased the general damages for her pain and future suffering to €40,000. This decision highlights the necessity for a realistic review of the Book of Quantum, to ensure that innocent victims are adequately compensated, and to reflect the current level of awards.
Minister Bruton suggests his motivation is a desire to ensure that insurance premia are reduced for motorists. That is an admirable objective. However, one questions whether or not it should be on the back of victims. Surely the focus might be better placed on the profits made by Insurance Companies, and seeing whether or not, if these profits were reduced, the premia that the hard pressed motorists pay might be reduced. Focus might also be had by the Minister on the causes of serious accidents, and whether or not steps might be taken by the Minister, and his colleagues, to reduce such causes.
A new era of Ireland’s Culture of Accountability should be developed and encouraged rather than fuelling an already negative and false image of a Compensation Culture.
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