On the 2 June 2022, Mr Justice Charles Meenan of the High Court delivered a judgment dismissing challenges to the legal basis of the Personal Injury Guidelines (the Guidelines), which were drawn up pursuant to the Judicial Council Act 2019 (the Act).
The significance here lies in the fact that the Book of Quantum (BOQ), predecessor to the Guidelines, would have entitled Ms Delaney to general damages in the region of €18,000- €34,000, whilst the Guidelines, which came into effect from 24 April 2021, entitled her to €3,000.
The sum of €3,000 was awarded to Ms Delaney by PIAB on the 13 May 2021, using the Guidelines as framework and she argued that PIAB erred in law by using the Guidelines to assess the value of her injuries and not the BOQ.
She claimed that the Judicial Council who by way of its personal injuries guidelines committee (the committee), drafted the Guidelines, erred by considering reduction of damages as part of its function.
In her claim against the State, Ms Delany alleged that the Act was unconstitutional as it amounted to a breach of the separation of powers doctrine and the reduced award under the Guidelines was an invasion of her constitutional rights to bodily integrity, property, and equality.
The Judge held that the Act provided the committee with the necessary principles and policies, which the committee followed closely when drawing up the Guidelines and the reduction in the level of awards was a result of the committee applying the provisions of the Act, “as it was obliged to do.”
Furthermore, the committee was entitled by statute and by precedent, to look to other jurisdictions when setting the levels of awards for general damages.
The Judge further held that although there is a statutory requirement that a court, when assessing damages in a personal injuries action, must have regard to the guidelines, this does not amount to an infringement on judicial independence as there is leeway for a judge to depart from the guidelines if reasons are given for such a departure. As such, Judges are not bound by the Guidelines, merely informed by it.
In disregarding her claim that her constitutional rights of property, bodily integrity and equality had been interfered with, the Judge held that these rights do not include a right to a particular sum of damages, but instead protect her to have her damages assessed in accordance with well-established principles for the awarding of general damages. He concluded that because these principles include a consideration for economic, social, and commercial conditions, their effect can vary over time.
In relation to her claim against PIAB, the Judge held that PIAB had acted in accordance with the relevant provisions of the PIAB Act of 2003 and it was concluded that she was not entitled to any of the reliefs sought.
This decision is an important one- it marks an acceptance by the courts of the Guidelines and confirms their constitutional validity.
The Guidelines indicate a significant shift in the way general damages are calculated and awarded. Since they came into effect in April 2021, there has been displeasure against their use and application, with several other cases in relation to the Guidelines waiting to be heard.
For applicants, they mark a considerable decrease in the monies they can hope to be awarded for minor injuries. For Insurance Companies, they mark a welcome change, as they provide much needed regularity and transparency to personal-injury awards.
There has been speculation that the decrease of general damages awards would lead to a substantial reduction in premiums within the insurance industry. Moyagh Murdock, Chief Executive of Insurance Ireland, has stated that she was “optimistic” that this would be the case. However, she also acknowledged that it would take some time for these changes to filter through on policies.
For further information please contact Brian Connolly (Solicitor), Gary Thompson (Solicitor) or your usual AMOSS contact.
 'Car Insurance Premiums To Fall In The 'Near Future' (RTE.ie, 2021) <https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2021/0412/1209371-motor-insurance-costs/> accessed 15 June 2022.