Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Questions (39)

Robert Troy


39. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the timeline for implementation of each of the 14 recommendations made by the Personal Injuries Commission regarding personal injury awards. [50374/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

This question is on the timeline for implementation of each of the 14 recommendations of the Personal Injuries Commission regarding personal injury awards.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. During its 18 month work programme, which concluded in July 2018, the Personal Injuries Commission, PIC, delivered two reports with 14 recommendations. The first report of PIC, published in December 2017, made four recommendations. The first recommendation was the adoption of a standardised approach to the examination of personal injuries. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, has rolled out a standardised template to its independent medical panel. I understand Insurance Ireland has distributed the medical reporting template to its members. The second recommendation was promotion of best practice training for medical professionals completing personal injury medical reports, and PIAB has engaged with relevant providers on this. The third recommendation relates to the book of quantum, which has been superseded by PIC's second report, which recommends that a judicial council, when established, be requested by the Minister for Justice and Equality to compile judicial guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. The fourth recommendation was that relevant injury data be collated and published by appropriate bodies. PIAB has since published data in line with this recommendation.

The second and final report made a further ten recommendations. I expect that they should be implemented as soon as possible by the relevant bodies. Recommendations Nos. 1 and 2 relate to the judicial council described earlier. Recommendation No. 3 proposed that the Law Reform Commission bring forward legislation to cap damages that a court may award, and this work is under way. Recommendation No. 4 provides for the development and roll-out of best practice standard treatment plans for soft tissue injuries and is being worked on by the HSE. Recommendation No. 5 proposed that no offer of settlement or payment of a personal injury claim can be made unless and until a detailed medical report has been obtained. Insurance Ireland has advised that it is standard practice for insurers to base personal injury claims settlements on medical reports. Recommendation No. 6 requires claimants to give prompt notification, within one month, of any potential injury so that a proper investigation may be undertaken. This was addressed through the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019.

We all agree the 14 recommendations are very important, but will the Minister indicate whether the Government will take the issue seriously and commit to agreeing a timetable for implementation of all the recommendations with the various bodies, including the Garda Commissioner, Insurance Ireland, the Law Society and the Bar Council, to give certainty to Irish business and consumers? Last Sunday, someone from a small enterprise rang me. That person will be forced out of business. People are very concerned. People think we are doing nothing about this, quite honestly. We need to make people aware and let people know that we are serious about this, and we will try to help them and try to keep people in jobs.

I am, as I know the Deputy is, very aware of the serious impact of high insurance costs, particularly liability insurance, for businesses and consumers. We as a Government are using every lever at our disposal to bring down insurance costs. We have done a huge amount of work and I expect all of this work will pay dividends. The Judicial Council Act has passed, which means that once the new council is in place, it will establish a personal injuries guidelines committee comprising judges and mirroring the models in place in neighbouring jurisdictions. It will draw up the guidelines of the level of damages that should be awarded in personal injuries actions. This should promote consistency in the level of personal injuries damages awarded by the courts. These guidelines will replace the book of quantum.

I also note that comments made last month by the interim Insurance Ireland CEO, Mr. Gerry Hassett, that if award levels come down, so will premiums. This is the secret to success here. I believe the judicial council and the committee will make a huge difference to the price of insurance.

It is extremely important that the Minister and the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, engage with PIAB.

I remember when the PIAB was set up by the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Mary Harney. It definitely made a difference at that time. There is no question but that insurance costs came down and that the cost of motor insurance for young people in particular fell. Unfortunately, the services of the PIAB are not being used as much as they should be and people are going to court, which is sad. This all goes back to the amounts being paid in respect of claims. The Minister referred to the judicial council. When will that be set up and when will it start its work? The quicker that is done, the quicker insurance claims will fall.

The Chief Justice is doing what he can to identify the steps that need to be taken to ensure that the judicial council and its relevant committees can hit the ground running once established. I expect that the council will be set up next year. As I understand it, it should be done very quickly because the law is passed and everything is in place.

The Deputy is right about the PIAB. We have increased its powers in order to ensure that there is greater compliance with its process. This is because the PIAB route is quicker and cheaper. I have said before that we need to change the culture because insurance claims should not be seen either as some type of windfall or as easy money. I am not taking away from genuine claims. There are genuine claims in respect of which compensation is deserved. I heard about a case - and I am sure the Deputy read about it as well - involving a woman who was asked at the checkout desk of a shop if she had paid for her shopping bag. She was so upset by the question that she decided to take a case and sought compensation of €75,000. That was outrageous but, thankfully, the judge dismissed that case, and rightly so.