NOBODY disputes that something needs to be done to reduce the often obscene amounts paid out in compensation to claimants, especially in cases involving whiplash, by order of our courts. Average awards here for whiplash are rapidly approaching the €20,000 mark, which is way over amounts paid out in other jurisdictions.
The awards are made at the discretion of our judiciary, which is independent of the legislative arm of the State and should remain so, making Minister of State Michael D’Arcy’s intimation that the government is considering a referendum to allow them to impose a legal cap on damages awards seem bizarre.
Rather than trying to interfere with judicial affairs, the government needs to exercise the legal powers it already has to cap general damages and expedite the setting up of a Judicial Council to consider a revised book of quantum, benchmarked against other countries, to bring some sanity back to the size of awards here. Small business representative groups feel that the recommendations in the recent Personal Injuries Commission report are not radical enough, however they are a start.
In parallel, the government needs to get tougher in instances where fraudulent insurance claims are brought and to prosecute those who do so as they are another major factor in escalating the cost of obtaining insurance.