Categories
Negligence Personal Injury Claims

Trends in Personal Injury Law in Ireland in 2019

There has been a vigorous debate in Ireland over the last 12 months or so about insurance, the cost of insurance, personal injury claims, bogus claims, excessive awards from the Courts, small businesses struggling to afford rising insurance premiums, and so on.

The Courts appear to be showing a greater enthusiasm to scrutinise personal injury cases. For example the awards made by the High Court in 2018 were down by 29%, according to the Courts Service annual report for 2018.

Having said that Circuit Court awards for the same time period-2018-increased from an average of €18,488 to €19,304 and the PIAB report for the first 6 months of 2018 showed a level of award which was 4.4 times that of awards for similar injuries in England and Wales.

In 2019 the Courts appear to have shown a greater awareness of the plaintiff’s responsibility for his own safety. For example, in Reilly v Mangan [2019] IEHC 91, the plaintiff was held responsible for his own injuries when he was injured by a taxi who drove over his ankle when he had been drunk and involved in a fight on a busy street.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim in White v Doherty & Anor [2019] IECA 295. The plaintiff had suffered a trip and fall injury in a caravan park but the High Court and Court of Appeal both found that users would be expected to take care in such a park for loose or embedded stones. 

In Keegan v Sligo County Council [2019] IECA 245 the Court of Appeal sent the case back to the High Court because the High Court had not had regard for whether the plaintiff’s alcohol consumption was a factor in his accident.

In Greene v Dunnes Stores [2019] IECA 115 and Kevin Keegan (Amended by the Order of the Court to Kevin Duke) v Dunnes Stores the Court of Appeal held that employees have responsibilities for their own welfare and safety. In the Greene case the Court of Appeal upheld Dunnes Stores appeal and held that the employer did not have an absolute duty to ensure the safety of the worker and dismissed the claim.

The Court in McCarthy v Twomey [2019] IEHC 719 accepted that the defendant had been in breach of his statutory duty to the plaintiff in failing to appoint a project supervisor and failing to have a health and safety plan for work on site. However, the court also held that that breach did not cause the accident of the plaintiff.

Takeaway

  1. The Plaintiff needs to prove negligence in a personal injury case, not merely that he has suffered an injury and Courts appear to be taken a firmer line in ensuring the Plaintiff discharges this burden of proof.
  2. An employer does not have an absolute duty to ensure the safety of the worker and the spectre of “strict liability” is not accepted by the Courts.
Categories
Negligence Personal Injury Claims

No Expert Opinion? Your Claim for Professional Negligence is Bound to Fail

If you are considering bringing legal proceedings for professional negligence the Court of Appeal has recently confirmed you will need an expert report or opinion. If you do not have such an opinion your claim is ‘bound to fail’ according to the High Court in Andrew Mangan (a minor) v Julian Dockeray and By Order Brian Denham and Mount Carmel Hospital.

In this case Mr. Mangan’s case against the defendants was dismissed by reason of the absence of expert medical evidence.

Background

Mr. Dockeray, a consultant obstetrician, had provided antenatal care to Mr. Mangan; Mr. Denham, a paediatrician, had provided neonatal care and Mount Carmel Hospital was where Mr. Mangan was born in 1995. It was at the time of his birth that Mr. Mangan had suffered various injuries including cerebral palsy.

In 2008 Mr. Mangan brought legal proceedings against Mr. Dockeray, the obstetrician. Mr. Dockeray brought an application to join Mr. Denham and Mount Carmel Hospital and this application was grounded on an affidavit of Mr. Dockeray’s solicitor. This affidavit stated that an expert opinion had been obtained by Mr. Dockeray and this expert report criticised the care provided by Mr. Denham and the hospital. This expert report was not exhibited in the solicitor’s affidavit, however, and Mr. Mangan never had sight of it.

Application to joint defendants

Mr. Mangan’s application to join the second and third defendants to his proceedings succeeded but Mr. Mangan confirmed he did not have any expert opinion or report which supported his claim against the second and third defendant; he was relying on the expert report of Mr. Dockeray’s, a report he had never seen.

The second defendant, Mr. Denham, the paediatrician and Mount Carmel hospital applied to have the proceedings against them struck out on the basis that Mr. Mangan had no expert report alleging negligence against them as required by the Rules of the Superior Courts (Order 19 Rule 28). Their argument was that the action against them had no prospect of success and was frivolous and vexatious, particularly in the absence of expert opinion against them.

Mr. Mangan was relying on the affidavit of Mr. Dockeray’s solicitor alleging negligence against Mr. Dockeray and the hospital but neither Mr. Mangan nor his legal team had seen this expert medical report.

High Court Decision

The High Court dismissed Mr. Mangan’s claim against the hospital and Mr. Dockeray for he had never made any allegations against them. Moreover, Justice Binchy found

  • Mr. Mangan’s expert report made no connection between his injuries and Mr. Dockeray and the hospital
  • Mr. Mangan could have sought more time to obtain his own expert report but had not done so
  • When a plaintiff declines to make any allegations against another party his pleadings will not disclose any reasonable cause of action, contrary to Order 19, Rule 28 of the Rules of the Superior Courts
  • It would fly in the face of logic to allow a claim against two defendants in circumstances where Mr. Mangan had made no allegations against them and he was merely relying on an affidavit of another solicitor which makes reference to a medical report but does not exhibit it in the affidavit.

Court of Appeal

Mr. Mangan appealed the decision of the High Court to the Court of Appeal and sought more time to obtain his own expert medical opinion. The Court of Appeal did not allow his appeal and decided the High Court had correctly applied the law to the facts of the case.

The Court of Appeal held that, having regard to the long timeline involved in this case, to give Mr. Mangan further time would be unfair to the hospital and the paediatrician.

Categories
Litigation Negligence

GP Defends Professional Negligence Claim About Breast Cancer Diagnosis in High Court

differential costs order

The High Court decision in Rossiter v Donlon is a useful one to look at when it comes to increasing our understanding of professional negligence, and what you need to prove to bring home such a legal action.

Background

The background to the case is that Ms. Rossiter sued Dr. Donlon for professional negligence arising from his advice and care in a consultation in which she presented with a history of an armpit lump.

Ms. Rossiter noticed a lump in her left armpit and after three months she went to Dr. Donlon. She was 32 years old at that stage in 2014. Dr. Donlon examined her left armpit and could not discern any lump. Dr. Donlon reassured her and told her to return to if the lump returned.

Ms. Rossiter attended Dr… Donlon, and other doctors, for approximately two years for the treatment of eczema but there was no further mention of the armpit lump.

In August 2016 she attended another doctor with a lump on her left breast and was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

Ms. Rossiter claimed the breast cancer could have been diagnosed earlier if she was referred to a Breast Clinic in 2014 by Dr. Donlon; she further claimed that Dr. Donlon had carried out an inadequate examination and had failed to carry out a breast examination in 2014.

Dr. Donlon’s evidence was that a breast examination was offered but this was declined, and she asserted that Ms. Rossiter agreed with her on the day that there was no lump present. Ms. Rossiter denied Dr. Donlon told her to return if there was a recurrence of the lump and she claimed that the lump persisted after the September 2014 consultation.

It was clear from the evidence of both parties that there were important conflicts of evidence on a number of points as to what was said at the September 2014 consultation. The Court preferred Dr. Donlon’s evidence on most heads, however, because she had made notes at the time of the consultation and these notes were preferred to the memory recall of Ms. Rossiter.

Dr. Donlon’s notes stated, “declined breast exam”. If the Court was to accept Ms. Rossiter’s evidence over the notes of Dr. Donlon it would meant that this note was a lie and added after the fact. This would be an extremely serious finding for the court to arrive at against a doctor and, furthermore, Ms. Rossiter’s legal team did not make this allegation or put this proposition to Dr. Donlon during cross-examination.

Expert medical evidence was produced by both sides as to the rate of tumour growth in an attempt to arrive at the likely size of the tumour in 2014. The evidence of Dr. Donlon’s expert witness was preferred and, on that basis, it was estimated that the size of the tumour in September 2014 would have been .6cm in size which is below the threshold size of 1 cm to have been discoverable on palpation by a GP at that time.

Negligence?

Mr. Justice Barr had to look at two questions when deciding whether Dr. Donlon was negligent or not:

  1. Should Dr. Donlon have insisted more strongly that Ms. Rossiter attend for a breast examination when it was declined?
  2. Should Dr. Donlon have arranged a review appointment at a later date?

It was decided that where both doctor and patient disagreed about the presence of a lump a further consultation should have been scheduled; however, in this case there was agreement that there was no lump and, therefore, no need to arrange a further consultation.

Mr. Justice Barr also found that even if Dr. Donlon was negligent in failing to refer Ms. Rossiter for a breast exam in 2014 this failure did not lead to any loss or injury.

He also held that, having regard to the rate of growth of the tumour from 2014 to 2016 when it was discovered, it would not have been detectable in September 2014 due to its small size.

Read the full decision here: Rossiter v Donlon [2019] IEHC 105

Categories
Litigation

Secondary School Student’s High Court Application to Halt Disciplinary Rejected

summary judgment

A secondary school student has had his High Court legal action thrown out by the Judge.

The background is the student was suspended from a secondary school over the allegation that he had sold €20 worth of cannabis in the school. The student admitted using the cannabis which was found in his schoolbag on the school premises.

He denied, however, he was involved in supplying the drug.

His application to the High Court was grounded on his assertion that the decision which would be arrived at as part of the disciplinary procedure was contaminated and prejudged as he claimed the school principal had contaminated the process by reason of his making findings of fact as part of the investigation stage.

He also alleged he would not be able to challenge the evidence against him at the proposed disciplinary hearing held by the board of management of the school and claimed an absence of fair procedures to date.

The Judge did not agree.

Premature application

The Judge in this High Court application said the application was premature and came nowhere near meeting the threshold for court intervention.

Justice Simons pointed to the fact that the school disciplinary process had not yet been completed and even when it was completed there was a statutory appeal process open to the student pursuant to section 29 of the Education Act, 1998.

This section 29 appeal involves a full hearing of the case on its merits before a committee of 3 persons appointed by the Department of Education. This should be availed of before heading off to the High Court, said Justice Simons.

The Judge stated that availing of these procedures would be cheaper and faster than going to the High Court and rejected the student’s application to judicially review the proposed disciplinary process. Justice Simons commented that this application could cost six figures in legal costs.

Interestingly Justice Simons also commented that school boards would be very slow to expel students if they are exposed to significant legal costs, even if they won their case, and a decision by him to grant the application wold have a ‘chilling effect’ on school boards of management.

In summary, the Judge said this application was premature and the student should have availed of the cheaper and faster procedures open to him rather than going to the High Court to try to halt the disciplinary.

Categories
Litigation

The Critical Importance of Bringing Your Case in the Correct Court-the Differential Costs Order

differential costs order

Choosing which Court to pursue your legal proceedings in is an important decision with a potentially costly outcome if you pursue your cause of action in the wrong Court. Two recent cases illustrate this:

  1. Moin -v- Sicika and
  2. O’Malley -v- McEvoy

Two personal injuries cases were brought in the High Court but the awards were within the Circuit Court scale. The plaintiff was awarded costs on the Circuit Court scale but the Judge refused the defendant’s request for a differential costs order.

The defendant appealed this decision to the Court of Appeal and succeeded in getting a differential costs order.

This order allows the Judge who makes the award of damages to the plaintiff on the lower court scale to order that the plaintiff pay the difference between the costs actually incurred by the defendant and those that would have been incurred if the case was brought in the correct court.

The Judge can measure these costs or order that they be taxed and the differential costs provision also provides for a set-off against the plaintiff’s costs.

The Courts Act 1981, as amended by the Courts Act, 1991, sets out the differential costs order power as follows:

“Limitation on amount of plaintiff’s costs in certain proceedings.

17.—(1) Where an order is made by a court in favour of the plaintiff or applicant in any proceedings (other than an action specified in subsections (2) and (3) of this section) and the court is not the lowest court having jurisdiction to make an order granting the relief the subject of the order, the plaintiff shall not be entitled to recover more costs than he would have been entitled to recover if the proceedings had been commenced and determined in the said lowest court.

(2) In any action commenced and determined in the High Court, being an action where the amount of damages recovered by the plaintiff exceeds £25,000 but does not exceed £30,000, the plaintiff shall not be entitled to recover more costs than he would have been entitled to recover if the proceedings had been commenced and determined in the Circuit Court, unless the judge hearing the action grants a special certificate, for reasons stated in the order, that, in the opinion of such judge, it was reasonable in the interests of justice generally, owing to the exceptional nature of the proceedings or any question of law contained therein, that the proceedings should have been commenced and determined in the High Court.

(3) In any action commenced and determined in the High Court, being an action where the amount of the damages recovered by the plaintiff exceeds £5,000 but does not exceed £15,000, the plaintiff shall not be entitled to recover more costs than whichever of the following amounts is the lesser, that is to say, the amount of such damages or the amount of costs which he would have been entitled to recover if the action had been commenced and determined in the Circuit Court.

(4) It shall not be lawful for rules of court to contain or impose any restriction on the amount of costs recoverable by any party from any other party in any action or other proceeding, but nothing in this subsection shall prevent the insertion in rules of court of a restriction on the amount of the costs recoverable which is identical with a restriction imposed by this section nor the fixing by rules of court of the amount recoverable by any person as and for the costs and expenses incurred by him in the doing of any specified thing in any particular form of action or other proceeding.

(5) (a) Where an order is made by a court in favour of the plaintiff or applicant in any proceedings (not being an appeal) and the court is not the lowest court having jurisdiction to make an order granting the relief the subject of the order, the judge concerned may, if in all the circumstances he thinks it appropriate to do so, make an order for the payment to the defendant or respondent in the proceedings by the plaintiff or applicant of an amount not exceeding whichever of the following the judge considers appropriate:

(i) the amount, measured by the judge, of the additional costs as between party and party incurred in the proceedings by the defendant or respondent by reason of the fact that the proceedings were not commenced and determined in the said lowest court, or

(ii) an amount equal to the difference between—

(I) the amount of the costs as between party and party incurred in the proceedings by the defendant or respondent as taxed by a Taxing Master of the High Court or, if the proceedings were heard and determined in the Circuit Court, the appropriate county registrar, and

(II) the amount of the costs as between party and party incurred in the proceedings by the defendant or respondent as taxed by a Taxing Master of the High Court or, if the proceedings were heard and determined in the Circuit Court, the appropriate county registrar on a scale that he considers would have been appropriate if the proceedings had been heard and determined in the said lowest court.

(b) A person who has been awarded costs under paragraph (a) of this subsection may, without prejudice to his right to recover the costs from the person against whom they were awarded, set off the whole or part thereof against any costs in the proceedings concerned awarded to the latter person against the first-mentioned person.

(6) In this section ‘relief’ includes damages.”.

The Court of Appeal held that it was incumbent upon a Judge where an award is made on the lower court scale to make a differential costs order unless there is a good reason for not doing so.

The Court of Appeal also noted it is necessary for the Plaintiff to pursue his case in the lowest court that can award what is reasonable in the circumstances of the case and if he does not do so then there is a serious costs risk.

In these cases the defendant had written to the Plaintiffs telling them that they believed the correct Court for the case was the Circuit Court and they would seek a differential costs order under under s. 17(5) of the Act of 1981 if the Plaintiff succeeded with his claim.

Read the full decision of the Court of Appeal here.

The takeaway is you need to exercise caution in which case you choose to pursue your case.