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High Court Compensation Awards Explained

Introduction to High Court Compensation Awards

High Court compensation awards for personal injuries receive a high profile in the media due to the sums of money involved. Unfortunately the extent of the plaintiff´s personal injury, and the lengths they have had to go to in order to receive a settlement of their claim, largely goes underreported – leaving a false impression about the claims procedure and about High Court compensation awards.

Will My Claim Automatically Go to Court?

Whether or not your case will go to court depends on many different factors. Most personal injury claims and some product liability claims are either settled by negotiation or via the Injuries Board process. The Injuries Board has no remit to assess medical negligence injury claims, but often these are also settled by negotiation before court action is necessary.

If the Injuries Board is unable to process your application for assessment due to a dispute over liability, or if the Injuries Board assessment is contested by either party, the Injuries Board will issue you with an Authorisation to pursue your claim in court. Without this Authorisation, you will not be able to take court action, so the Injuries Board process plays an essential role in settling your claim.

Claims most likely to be resolved in court with High Court compensation awards include:

  • Complex medical negligence claims.
  • Claims for injuries caused by two or more defendants.
  • Cases in which the plaintiff has contributed to the cause of their accident or injury.
  • Claims in which liability has been admitted, but no agreement can be reached on how much compensation the plaintiff should receive.

At What Stage should you Engage a Solicitor?

Although it is not essential to use a solicitor to apply for an assessment to the Injuries Board, it is thoroughly recommended that you seek professional advice before commencing legal action in order to discuss your accident and injury and find out if there are any pitfalls you are likely to encounter.

It has been estimated that over ninety per cent of applications to the Injuries Board have been made with the assistance of a legal professional to ensure that the full circumstances and consequences of the accident and injury are communicated effectively.

The Injuries Board can only assess claims using the information it is provided with. Although you may be required to undergo an independent medical examination as part of the assessment process, this is only to assess your recovery from the injury and has nothing to do with recovering economic losses or awarding compensation for a deterioration in your quality of life.

Unsolicited Approaches from Insurance Companies

While the Injuries Board is conducting its assessment – and sometimes even before you apply for an assessment – you may be approached by the negligent party´s insurance company with an unsolicited offer of personal injury compensation. These offers should always be referred to your solicitor.

Insurance companies are in the business of making money for their shareholders. Their unsolicited approach will have been prompted by an accident report being forwarded to them by their policyholder or by the Injuries Board asking for their consent to assess your claim, and the goal of the unsolicited approach is to settle your claim as cheaply as possible.

Irrespective of how tempting the offer of compensation is, and what financial concerns you may have after suffering an injury, you should never accept an offer without first taking legal advice. If the settlement of compensation is insufficient to pay your medical bills or support your family, you are unable to go back to the insurance company and ask for more.

Negotiated Settlements and High Court Compensation Awards

Even when your claim qualifies for High Court compensation awards, your solicitor will attempt to organise a negotiated settlement to save you the stress of a court appearance. Sometimes the negligent party´s insurance company are willing settle in order to avoid potential court costs. On other occasions – particularly in medical negligence claims – an admission of liability is more difficult to obtain.

Before, during and at the conclusion of negotiations, your solicitor will keep you fully informed on the progress of your claim. The solicitor cannot agree to a negotiated settlement without your approval, but will advise you of whether a proposed settlement is appropriate in the circumstances according to the risks of proceeding to court and potentially losing your claim before an unsympathetic judge.

If you choose to go to the High Court – or you are advised by your solicitor to take this course of action – High Court compensation awards are based on the same criteria as if your claim was being assessed by the Injuries Board. The judge has the discretion to inflate or deflate High Court compensation awards, but the criteria of physical injury, emotional trauma, loss of amenity and economic loss remains the same.

The Court Case

How your court case is structured will depend on whether or not the defendant admits responsibility for your injuries. If the defendant has not admitted to being at fault, the hearing will be structured as follows:

  • Your barrister will outline the nature of the case and the injuries you sustained to the judge.
  • If relevant, medical evidence relating to your injuries may be given.
  • You will be called to the witness box to give evidence, and you may be cross-examined by the defendant’s barrister.
  • Witnesses supporting your claim will give evidence and be cross-examined by the defendant’s barrister.
  • Witnesses supporting the alleged negligent party will give evidence and be cross-examined by your barrister.
  • Both barristers may make submissions to the judge.

The judge will make his or her decision based on whether your barrister has proven that the defendant was at fault and is therefore liable for your injuries. If found liable, the judge will rule on how much compensation you are entitled to.

There are occasions when a settlement can be negotiated during a High Court hearing. There are also occasions when a potential settlement has been agreed in advance of a High Court hearing subject to liability being proved. Your solicitor will advise you if either of these scenarios are likely in your case.

The Minimum Payout in High Court

One factor that will determine whether your personal injury claim will be heard by the High Court is the anticipated minimum payout in High Court cases. The current minimum payout in High Court cases (€60,000) was set by the Courts and Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 and became effective on 3rd February 2014.

Cases with an anticipated value of less than €60,000 are heard by the Circuit Civil Court, unless they have an anticipated value of less than €15,000 – in which case they are heard by the District Court. These compensation bands and the minimum payout in High Court cases also apply to approval hearings when a claim has been made on behalf of a child or person unable to represent themselves.

To determine whether your personal injury claim exceeds the minimum payout in High Court cases, you should have your claim fully assessed by a solicitor. Your solicitor will take every element of your claim into account as well as factors that may reduce the amount awarded by the High Court – for example if you have contributed to the cause of an accident or the extent of your injury by your own lack of care.

High Court Compensation Awards: Conclusion

In highly complex cases, in cases where settlements cannot be agreed, or in cases where liability is denied or divided, it is of utmost import to engage a highly experienced solicitor in order to maximise the value of High Court compensation awards.

High court cases are often protracted and the expenses incurred when pursuing a case can be substantial. High Court judges do not always find in favour of the plaintiff and it should be noted that there is a risk associated with pursuing High Court compensation awards.

Consult a Claims Expert at the Earliest Opportunity

While we strive to ensure all the articles on this site are factually accurate you should never rely on the information supplied here. You should always consult a solicitor before taking any action that may have legal consequences.

We provide a confidential legal advice helpline which you are invited to call and speak with a specialised personal injury solicitor. He or she will answer any questions you may have about High Court compensation awards and how they might apply in your specific circumstances.