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  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  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  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  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  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.
- 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.
- 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.