What do people mean when they refer to âPersonal Injuryâ? claims?
It is, firstly and obviously, a reference to the consequences of an event; somebody has been injured. In addition, following the injury there is an allegation that somebody else has caused the injury and is answerable in law for that. Its current major significance is the consideration of the claim as an administrative problem. It also expresses a particular view of the âproblemâ?; administratively, the problem could be the rising rate of injury in the population, caused perhaps by a change in the economy, evidenced by the increased use of motor cars, say. Or, it could be defined from the point of view of the person accused; that there should not be an obligation to answer such accusations and, moreover, pay compensation.
Is there an administrative problem?
According to the Courts Service, in 2003 of 16,400 summonses, 10,600 were seeking compensation for personal injury. The growth in litigation is undeniable but very arguably is accounted for by the development of the economy. That growth was not confined to claims for compensation for personal injury, it has extended to purely commercial disputes which themselves place demand on the court system for attention. The established system for dealing with disputes between persons is the court system. The Constitution of Ireland secures the right of access to the courts for resolution of such disputes.
What happens to all these cases?
The majority are settled. The court system could not cope with the task of providing a full judicial hearing for these disputes. Only a small proportion of disputes come to a full hearing. However, even a small proportion of a large, or growing figure, can place a strain on the system. Some see a solution in the appointment of more judges.
Is there a right to compensation for personal injury?
No. The right is to the adjudication of disputes between persons. If the injury is caused without the involvement of another person, the injured person will be left without compensation. Even where fault is found against another person, that finding itself will not ensure the payment of compensation. (Thatâs the reason third party insurance is compulsory for the use of motor vehicles; the policy will ensure the payment of the compensation).
How much personal injury is there in Ireland?
For most of the time since the foundation of the State there was no concerted effort to answer this question. Consider accidents at work. Even after the passing of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, the State had not sought to estimate or ascertain the number of people injured at work. At best a guess could be made by combining the figures of injury from the Department of Labour and the Department of Social Welfare, giving a figure of about 16,000 a year in the early â90s. The Barrington Commission had estimated the annual number of accidents causing 1-to-3 day absences from work at between 4,000 and 36,000. The Department of Labour came up with a figure for the number of accidents at work at 45,000 per year. (This was over 4% of the workforce). A member of the Royal Academy of Medicine, in 1990, estimated the total number of accidents in Ireland, annually, at 68,000. The Health and Safety authority, in 1990 estimated the total number of injuries at work annually at 18,250. The Health and Safety Authority now furnish a figure, for 2003, of work related injuries and illness, causing an absence from of work in excess of 3 days, of 39,700 persons. These would vary in seriousness, but arguably an injury involving an absence from work of in excess of 3 days is serious.
What proportion of these injuries would be the responsibility of the person injured and nobody else?
This can be answered only by a guess. The guess is; very few. Most road traffic accidents involve more than one vehicle. Given the detailed rules applicable to driving vehicles, it is rarely the case that there has not been an error by one or more of the drivers of these vehicles, giving rise to a potential if not an actual dispute. In the case of workplace accidents, it is the obligation of an employer to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the health and safety of employees; if the employee is injured at work it will normally involve a breach of that general or some specific duty of the employer.
Why should these injured people be compensated?
This question could be posed as follows: Why should persons who injure other persons not compensate the injured persons? The general answer is multifold.
Firstly the Constitution of Ireland obliges the State to vindicate the person of the citizen as follows:
â3. 1Â° The State guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.
2Â° The State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen.â?
This is generally acknowledged to imply the obligation to impose liability to make compensation for personal injuries arising from fault.
Secondly, most societies, ancient and modern, made and make provision for payment of compensation for such injuries.
What is the proper level of compensation for such injured persons?
There is no fixed answer to this question. It must depend on the society involved. In a rich society, it would not be right to confine the obligation to make compensation to a mere gesture. Of course the injuries and illness differ in degree of seriousness. This should be reflected in the amount of the compensation.
Is there any alternative to the court compensation system?
Yes. In New Zealand the state has established an Accident Compensation scheme and it presents its service as follows:
âThe Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) administers New Zealandâs accident compensation scheme, which provides personal injury cover for all New Zealand citizens, residents and temporary visitors to New Zealand. In return people do not have the right to sue for personal injury, other than for exemplary damages.â?
The scheme does not cover all accidents. Where this happens, there is a right to have recourse to the courts. Of course the compensation is paid by the state, that is, out of taxation of the population.
TO BE CONTINUEDâ¦