Personal injury damages are a financial amount paid to you by a party who has been responsible for causing you an injury or loss. Also known as personal injury compensation, personal injury damages are more than a settlement for a physical injury – they can cover such elements as current and future medical expenses, your potential loss of earnings, the costs of any household services that are required (having somebody look after your home, children or elderly relatives when you are unable to do so) psychological injury and your “loss of amenity” (when your quality of life deteriorates due to your injury).
These elements of personal injury damages are divided into two categories – “General Damages” and “Special Damages” – with it being essential that you receive your full entitlement of both to ensure that you are finically secure and can focus on recovering from your injuries. Under the Statute of Limitations you have two years from the “date of knowledge” that an injury has been sustained in which to file a claim for personal injury damages so, although it is recommended that you discuss your personal injury compensation with a solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity, your health must always be your priority.
General Personal Injury Damages
In the majority of personal injury claims, general personal injury damages in Ireland are determined with reference to the Book of Quantum. This publication lists a selection of physical injuries and allocates them a financial value according to the severity of the injury and the length of time it may take for you to recover from them. It is not intended to be a medical dictionary, and is not in any way comprehensive, but covers the most common injuries sustained in vehicle collisions, accidents at work and slips, trips and falls.
Although a useful guide, the Book of Quantum fails to make consideration for the effect an injury may make to a person’s quality of life, their ability to work or their age. For example, a young person suffering a facial injury will have a lifelong scar which may affect their confidence and social/business interaction far more than an older person. This scar might affect their ability to find work or a partner, and could lead to a state of depression and anxiety. Each person is an individual and although it is unrealistic to expect a book to provide a satisfactory resolution for every conceivable circumstance, it is essential that every element of a claim for general personal injury damages is considered.
Special Personal Injury Damages
Special personal injury damages account for any “out of pocket” expenses you may incur due to your injury. These expenses may be minor in nature and relate to the cost of attending a hospital and receiving medical treatment but can extend to a loss of earnings, the purchase of a specialist vehicle if you sustain an injury which prevents you from driving a regular one and the adaption of your home to cater for somebody who may have to spend the rest of their life in a wheelchair.
Any special personal injury damages which are claimed via the Injuries Board Ireland have to be supported by documentary evidence and this includes any loss of earnings that you may encounter in the future. At a time when you are possibly still in pain from your injuries, it may be inappropriate for you to pay a visit to the employer who is liable for your suffering and ask them to complete the paperwork this entails. This is only one of the reasons why you should speak with a solicitor once you have received treatment for injuries sustained in an accident for which you were not wholly to blame.
Claiming Personal Injury Damages
Depending on the cause of your injury, your claim for personal injury damages will be directed to the Injuries Board Ireland or through the courts if due to medical or professional negligence. The Injuries Board Ireland will assess any personal injury claims in which there is no issue over liability, so should the negligent party deny their responsibility for your injuries or counter-claim that you contributed to them by your own lack of care, the Injuries Board Ireland will decline to assess your claim for personal injury damages and issue you with an Authorisation to pursue your claim through the courts.
When liability is not an issue, the Injuries Board Ireland will ask you to attend an independent medical examination, where an assessment will be made of the extent of your injuries. Thereafter, both you and the negligent party will be issued with a Notice of Assessment advising you how much personal injury damages they believe you should receive and, if both parties accept the assessment, an Order to Pay is issued and your personal injury compensation claim is paid. The whole process takes a little over six months.
Litigation and Personal Injury Damages
If the Injuries Board Ireland is unable to resolve your personal injury claim, you will need a solicitor to take your claim to court. The usual procedure is that a solicitor will “issue” court proceedings in either the District Court, Circuit Court or High Court, depending on the expected value of your claim. However, if you have been in touch with a personal injury solicitor from the time you sustained your injury, he will have already prepared the strongest possible case on your behalf, and will be in negotiations with the negligent party’s insurance company in order to settle your personal injury claim without the need for a court appearance.
The courts frown on claims for personal injury damages which require litigation only because there is a dispute over the amount assessed by the Injuries Board Ireland. Personal injury solicitors are encouraged to engage in negotiations with the negligent party’s insurance company to reach a speedy and acceptable conclusion with the need for litigation in court. If your solicitor has done his job adequately, it will be the insurance company who are complaining about the amount of the assessment and frequently the insurance company gives way to save court fees in a case where there client has already admitted negligence.
Personal Injury Damages and Third Party Capture
Another way in which insurance companies try to save money is by directly approaching victims of accidents and making an offer of early settlement for their personal injury damages claim. These approaches can occur soon after the victim has been injured and before they have had the opportunity to speak with a personal injury solicitor. Consequently, the victim has no idea about how much personal injury compensation they are entitled to receive and will accept the offer of early settlement without taking professional advice.
Inasmuch as a direct approach by an insurance company is a good thing (because it shows that they are willing to admit their client was negligent), accepting an inappropriate offer will leave you undercompensated and potentially with long term financial problems. Once you have accepted their offer you cannot go back for more if it proves to be insufficient, so never agree to an insurance company settlement proposal without first discussing your personal injury compensation claim with a solicitor.
Personal Injury Damages Summary
No amount of personal injury damages can ever compensate for a lifelong health issue which could have been avoided by timely medical intervention, so your first priority after being injured in an accident for which you were not at fault is that of your health. Once you have started to receive medical treatment, you should discuss with a personal injury solicitor what general personal injury damages and special personal injury damages you are entitled to in order to avoid being under-assessed by the Injuries Board Ireland or a victim of “third party capture” by an insurance company.
A solicitor will guide you through the process of applying to the Injuries Board Ireland for a personal injury damages assessment and establish how much personal injury compensation you should receive. If there are any complications along the way, your solicitor will be able to represent you in litigation or negotiation with the strongest possible case prepared in advance to ensure you receive your full entitlement of personal injury damages.