I am aware of recent media publicity concerning the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The PIAB has received 36,000 cases since it was established. I understand from the PIAB that 6,000 of these were settled up-front from the outset, 9,000 cases were settled between the parties during the PIAB process, more than 5,000 assessments have been made, and an estimated 4,000 cases are heading into litigation, although not all of these will necessarily go to a full hearing.
This leaves 12,000 cases which are currently in the PIAB system. Some 7,500 of these are in the assessment phase and I am assured by the PIAB that they will all be dealt with within the statutory timeframes. The balance of cases is awaiting documentation from one of the parties or a decision from the respondent to consent to process.
The Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 provides that the board must ensure that assessments are made within a period of nine months beginning on the date on which it receives the respondent's consent to assessment, or in circumstances where it appears to the board that it would not be possible or appropriate, because of the particular circumstances of the claim concerned, to make an assessment within the nine month period, the period for making an assessment may be increased to 15 months. I am advised by the board that 93% of assessments are made within the nine month period; the remaining 7% are assessed within a further six months as allowed by the legislation and these would normally be cases where a stable medical prognosis is not available in the nine month period.
The board has assured me that it has the capacity to deal with the volumes of cases on hand and projected to come before it. Currently 72 staff are employed by the board. This is expected to rise to 85 by the year end. In addition, the board outsources claims preparation and helpline services to a contracted service centre, which provides flexibility and the capacity to expand processing volumes quickly to meet increased demand. Based on statistical and actuarial trends, the PIAB has projected annual volumes of cases rising to 25,000 per annum, 40% of which are expected to be resolved between the parties following contact with the board, 20% are expected to head into litigation but not necessarily to a court hearing and the remaining 40% will be assessed by the PIAB.
Total expenditure by the PIAB in 2005 was €8.08 million. This was funded by a €2.5 million Exchequer grant, €5.2 million in fees received and €384,000 from other income sources. The board is expected to be self-funding in 2006 in respect of operational costs.
The success of the PIAB represents a good news story for consumers who can now have their claims processed much more quickly and will receive the same level of awards as made in the courts without the trauma of litigation. The average time which it takes the board to assess cases is 7.2 months from the date of consent. Under the previous litigation-based system cases took three to four years to be settled. The costs associated with settling claims under that old system averaged 46% of the cost of awards, which compares to costs of approximately 7% under the PIAB system. In addition, a large number of cases have been removed from the courts system, freeing up the courts to deal with other matters.
The achievements of the PIAB to date are significant, delivering as it does a fast, efficient and, above all, fair personal injuries claims settlement system in such a short period since its establishment. The challenges the PIAB has overcome, logistic and legal, have been formidable and while the board continues to operate in a difficult environment, I have every confidence in its ability to deliver a quality service within its statutory timelines.