Former Irish High Court president Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns has criticised the State’s loss-making insurers for not seeking the prosecution of people found to have made fraudulent injury claims. When fraud is uncovered in civil cases, typically the claimant withdraws their claim without any further repercussions, he said, with insurers failing to make a complaint to the Garda, who could investigate and refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Ireland’s insurance industry has been in a state of turmoil in recent years for a number of reasons. Motor claims have been rising as more cars take to the roads in a recovering economy. Court awards have been increasing. And insurers have been less able to rely on investment income to cushion the blow, as they grapple with record-low global bond yields.
In an effort to return to profitability, insurers have hiked motor coverage rates by 35 per cent in the year to May, according to the Central Statistics Office, with house insurance rising by almost 10 per cent.
The main reason for rising court costs, according to David Nolan, a senior barrister and mediator, was an increase in jurisdiction of various courts in 2014, when the maximum circuit court personal injuries award rose from €38,000 to €60,000.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel, according to Mr Nolan.
The Court of Appeal, set up in 2014, has recently begun to slash some of the injury awards that have been granted by the lower courts. A €65,000 High Court award granted by Mr Justice Kevin Cross last year, where the claimant suffered “soft-tissue injuries”, was subsequently cut by more than half on appeal.
This year, the Court of Appeal almost halved a €120,000 general damages award given by Mr Justice Anthony Barr to a woman who had sustained shoulder, hand and thumb injuries in a car crash. In March, it also cut by 50 per cent a combined €220,000 High Court personal injury award given to a couple who had sustained injuries when their car was hit by another vehicle.
“At the moment, the messages are very, very strong,” said Mr Nolan. “Judges of the High Court are being told by the Court of Appeal: ‘Moderate your general damages in these cases.’”
Courtesy of the Irish Times, June 17 2016.