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Landmark decision on case ‘of systemic importance’
Mr Justice Peter Charleton Pic: RollingNews.ie

10 Apr 2024 / personal injury Print

Landmark decision on case ‘of systemic importance’

The Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brigid Delaney v Personal Injury Assessment Board, the Judicial Council, Ireland and the Attorney General (9 April) confirms that an appeal against compensation guidelines has been lost.

The decision means that Judicial Council-approved guidelines slashing minor-injury compensation awards are legally binding, and that any changes to them will require legislation.

A seven-judge court delivered five separate judgments, with the remaining two judges concurring with two of the decisions.

Presiding, Mr Justice Peter Charleton (pictured) said that the decision would have an ongoing effect on thousands of personal-injury cases yet to come before the courts “and multiples of that” into the future.

“The case is thus of systemic importance,” he said.

Lost appeal

Mr Justice Charleton confirmed that Brigid Delaney had lost her appeal in a case concerning a fall on a footpath in Dungarvan, Co Waterford, on 12 April 2019.

She fractured her ankle and made a claim to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB).

Between the incident and the PIAB assessment of her case’s damages value, the Judicial Council approved new guidelines for personal-injury damages that replaced the Book of Quantum on 6 March 2021.

The Book of Quantum, in place since 2004, guided judges based on their own previous decisions.

The new guidelines replaced the Book of Quantum, encompassing injury, negligence, and malpractice awards – including all claims for general damages for pain and suffering in respect of personal injuries.

This resulted in much lower damages in most injury claims.

The appellant claimed that her constitutional rights had been impugned because tight guidelines limited the discretion of judges to award her fair compensation.

The PIAB assessed the damages for her injury at €3,000, whereas the Book of Quantum would have delivered a multiple of this sum.

Delaney asked the High Court to quash the PIAB decision, but Mr Justice Charles Meenan ruled that the Judicial Council was entitled to set guidelines.

The Supreme Court decision upheld the original award, meaning that the current guidelines will remain in force with a statutory obligation to a cost-of-living review every three years, subject to Judicial Council consideration.

Amendments expected

It is understood that amendments may be proposed after the current review.

Personal-injuries solicitor and former Law Society President Stuart Gilhooly told the Gazette that his understanding was that the review had been completed, but might now be delayed by this decision.

“I hope the Government will move quickly to pass the necessary legislation to ensure that the forthcoming review of guidelines takes place.

“I'm hopeful that there will be a cost-of-living increase, reflecting how things have changed in the last three years in terms of inflation and the cost of living,” Gilhooly added.

Commenting, Johan Verbruggen of Fieldfisher Ireland's medical-negligence department said that the decision was “groundbreaking”.

“The majority decision, by a vote of five to two, establishes the guidelines as legally binding, with departures permissible only when there is no reasonable proportion between the guidelines and the damages award,” he said.

The ruling, with significant implications for the future assessment of damages, marked a pivotal moment in the realm of personal-injury law, he added.

Jurisprudence development

“By establishing the guidelines as legally binding and rejecting challenges to their validity, the court provides clarity and direction for the assessment of damages in personal-injury cases," he said.

“This decision reaffirms the importance of adhering to established legal frameworks, while also recognising the need for judicial independence and oversight,” the lawyer concluded.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland