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President of High Court asks people to negotiate personal injury cases as pandemic causes large backlog

Some 320 claims, which were postponed since 18 March, were listed for mention this week.

File photo of the Four Courts building in Dublin city.
File photo of the Four Courts building in Dublin city.
Image: Shutterstock/Semmick Photo

THE PRESIDENT OF the High Court Ms Justice Mary Irvine has asked practitioners involved in personal injury cases to focus on negotiations, as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a large backlog.

Some 320 claims, which were postponed since 18 March, were listed for mention this week.

In a statement issued this morning, Ms Justice Irvine noted that 97% of all claims relating to personal injuries litigation in the High Court are settled. Of those that reach court, 89% settle with only 11% proceeding to a contested hearing.

“Regrettably, however, a substantial number of claims only settle on the day they are listed for hearing.

“In practical terms this means that if cases cannot be listed for hearing (as is currently the case because of Covid-19), they will neither be fought nor settled but will remain in limbo,” Ms Justice Irvine wrote.

With this in mind, she has asked parties to negotiate with each other in the immediate future with a view to bringing about “the result that would have been achieved if those cases could have been listed for hearing”.

Medical bills 

Ms Justice Irvine said the claims causing her the “most concern” are those which would have settled had it not been necessary to adjourn them.

“In those cases, the plaintiffs have been held out of the money they would have received as result of such settlements. And, as we all know, delay in litigation of this nature can cause great economic hardship or even unwarranted additional mental or physical suffering.”

She noted that many plaintiffs who have sustained serious injuries are unable to work, and “need their compensation to replace their earnings” and pay for medical bills.

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Ms Justice Irvine stressed that she is “not asking any defendant to settle a claim in respect of which they consider they have no liability or where they consider the sum claimed to be excessive or even possibly fraudulent”.

“Obviously, defendants must contest rather than settle such claims. Neither am I asking any defendant, who would in the normal course of events have settled a particular claim, to pay anything more than they would have paid to settle the claim on the date it was due to be heard.”

She added that, for reasons of health and safety, any such negotiations should not take place at the Four Courts.

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Órla Ryan

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