Damages in Civil Litigation in Ireland

Civil litigation cases in Ireland can be finalized in a number of different ways.

Remedies open to the Courts include

  • Rescission of a contract
  • An order for specific performance
  • An injunction
  • An order for rectification
  • A declaration
  • Damages.

The most common remedy sought is damages.

Damages are monetary compensation for a wrong suffered in a civil case. However there are different types of damages obtainable:

1. Nominal Damages

Nominal damages are awarded where a plaintiff has established that she has suffered a breach of a legal right but has not suffered a loss. The main purpose of nominal damages is to confirm the right of a plaintiff.

2. Contemptuous Damages

Contemptuous damages are awarded where a Court accepts that the plaintiff has suffered a wrong but his behaviour has been such that the Court signals its disapproval of his conduct. This is usually accompanied by a refusal by the Court to award the Plaintiff his costs.

3. Punitive/Exemplary Damages

These are damages awarded by a Court where the Court wishes to punish the Defendant because of his conduct and are usually awarded on public policy grounds.

4. Aggravated Damages

Aggravated damages are additional damages awarded where the conduct of the defendant merits it. This can arise in cases where the conduct of the defendant in defending the case merits it or where the wrongdoer repeats the wrong after the commission of the original wrong.

5. Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages for breach of contract are designed to put the plaintiff in the position he would have been in if the contract had been performed.

Compensatory damages in negligence cases are designed to put the plaintiff in the position had the tort not been committed.

Compensatory damages can be divided into 2 categories:

  • General damages for pain and suffering
  • Special damages for pecuniary/financial loss (eg loss of earnings, damage to property, cost of medical treatment etc.)

Future Loss-Actuarial Evidence

Where damages for future loss are claimed actuarial evidence will be needed to prove it.

If future losses over a number of years are expected a plaintiff will need to produce actuarial evidence. This will involve getting an actuary to prepare an actuarial report.

This report will be relied on by the plaintiff to assist the Court in calculating future losses, but the defendant will almost certainly have his own actuarial report.

Future losses will include loss of earnings and the cost of medical care and the Court, with the help of the actuarial evidence, will be in a position to make an award by way of a capital sum on the day of judgment.

Factors which will influence the actuarial figures will include

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Life expectancy
  • Past earnings
  • Future career path
  • Inflation
  • How long the loss is likely to last

To arrive at a capital sum for the date of judgment the actuary will apply an actuarial multiplier to the plaintiff’s net weekly loss.

Exaggeration or Dishonesty in Damages Claims

The Supreme Court has recognised three scenarios in which dishonesty or exaggeration of losses may occur:

  1. Where the entire claim is made up-that is a fraudulent claim. This will be dismissed by the Court.
  2. Where there is a genuine claim but the effect of the injuries is exaggerated. The Judge will decide on the value of the claim, based on the evidence, and disregard the exaggerated claims but will not throw out the case.
  3. Where there is a genuine case of negligence but the effect of that negligence is exaggerated or lied about. In this case, the credibility of the witness is at issue and the Judge will assess the plaintiff’s evidence based on the evidence of the other witnesses. This is an attempt to achieve a fair result but may lead to the case being thrown out, depending on the other evidence.

The Civil Liability and Courts Act, 2004 makes it an offence to knowingly give false and misleading evidence. Sections 25 and section 26 are relevant in this regard.

Contributory Negligence and Damages

Where the Plaintiff has suffered loss partly as a result of his own negligence the damages to be awarded will be reduced by an amount to reflect the contribution of the Plaintiff to his own loss.

Mitigation of Damages

A plaintiff has a duty under the Civil Liability Act, 1961 (section 34) to keep his losses to a reasonable minimum.

The Civil Liability Act, 1961 also provides for a plaintiff to recover all damages from either defendant where there is more than one defendant.

(See also fatal injury claims and personal injury claims in Ireland which deal with survival of claims on death and damages in personal injury actions)