Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Bill 2018: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend and extend the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Acts 2003 and 2007.

As we heard even in the last few minutes, there are aspects of the insurance market that are dysfunctional. It was as far back as June 2016 that my party introduced a motion in the House which called on the Government to tackle issues prevalent in the insurance industry which were having a detrimental impact on consumers. The cost of insurance working group was set up later that year. It has reported and the recommendations are gradually being implemented, but the actions we have seen so far have not been substantial in nature. Implementation of lmany of the main recommendations has been delayed.

The Government cites the recent decreases in the cost of motor insurance, as reported by the CSO, as vindication of its policies, but, of course, it comes on the back of a 57% increase in motor insurance premiums. Going up by 57% and falling by 20% is not success and should not be heralded as such. The Government has yet to establish a national claims information database; to legislate for another liquidation such as Setanta Insurance which still rumbles on more than four years after the collapse of the company; to tackle insurance fraud; to establish an anti-fraud unit within An Garda Síochána; and to establish index tracking business insurance premiums. We have no data whatsoever for the cost of business insurance. The Government has yet to take any action to stabilise personal injury claims, while we await further reports from the Personal Injuries Commission. All the while, the European Commission continues to investigate the industry for anti-competitive behaviour. We have also seen no movement on the issue of flood insurance cover for businesses and households located in areas in which demountable flood defence systems have been installed by the Office of Public Works.

In recent weeks my colleague Deputy Billy Kelleher introduced an important Bill to strengthen the penalties for insurance fraud. The Bill I am introducing continues in that vein. It has been designed to strengthen the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB. We know that only approximately 30% of all personal injury claims are settled, either in the PIAB or the courts. The remainder are dealt with outside the courts or the PIAB and in a way where there is no transparency or actual data. The PIAB was designed to remove pressure from the courts system and establish a more constructive engagement approach, rather than the often costly adversarial legal approach in the courts system. However, the current system is being undermined. It is being undermined by some claimants who see the PIAB process as simply a rubber stamp. They see higher payouts in the courts and, therefore, do not co-operate in any way with the PIAB process. Under the current process, the PIAB provides for independent medical examinations which serve to inform the board in order that it can make an assessment of an appropriate award. If the assessment is accepted by both parties, expensive legal proceedings are avoided. There is currently no penalty or disincentive for a claimant who fails to attend this important, independent medical examination. This means that the board needs to make an assessment lacking critical information on the injuries obtained. Similarly, there are no consequences for applicants to the board who fail to provide evidence of special damages. Again, the board must make an assessment in the absence of this critical information. More often than not, the assessment is rejected and legal proceedings are commenced. The Bill provides that if a claimant fails to provide information or documents requested by the board or fails to attend a medical examination as requested by the board and if he or she subsequently brings legal proceedings, the court shall have regard to the failure to comply with the requests made by the board and discretion to rule that certain evidence, including medical evidence, is not admissible in court. The court has discretion to determine that no award of costs may be made in favour of the claimant. It really is designed to encourage people to engage in a meaningful way with the PIAB process.

The Bill will also make it mandatory for the book of quantum, on which assessments are based, to be updated every three years. The book of quantum was updated in 2016, but prior to that, it had not been updated since first being published in 2004. There should not be an assumption that it always has to be revised upwards. The Bill will not resolve the dysfunction that persists in the insurance market, but it will make important changes in how the Personal Injuries Assessment Board functions. I urge colleagues across the House to back it.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.