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In 2003, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board was established through legislation, to assess personal injuries, along with property damage, without the need for costly and timely legal proceedings. While the Personal Injuries Assessment Board was a practical measure in theory, it has not worked out as intended, but cannot be regarded as the total failure many articles imply. 

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This essay will asses the strengths and weaknesses of this independent body. I will look for the previous need which the board apparently fulfils, and how much of a change has it made to claimants. I will look to other academic scholars, and even the Ministers, past and present, to see what are their take on the statutory body. 

Finally I will look to New Zealand and and asses the similar model of personal injury claims, made through the Accident Compensation Scheme; which Ireland should draw inspiration from, and enact some of its policies and regulations.  

The reasoning behind the PIAB

The PIAB was set up as a reform programme for insurance which aimed to speed up recovery for claimants in cases where liability was non-disputed; and reduce insurance costs for the public and businesses, however this has not happened. While both the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003, but especially the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) 2007 Act, strive to reduce unnecessary and inequitable costs, many claimants take their case to the courts in hopes of larger sums of compensation. 

If the court action is successful, the claimant may also recover legal costs; which can add up to 40% of compensation paid out.  The 2007 Act provides that where the claimant refuses the PIAB assessment, and it has been accepted by the respondent, and they fail to get more than the amount the PIAB offered in court proceedings, the claimant cannot recover legal costs. This practical provision allows the Act, and the statutory body, to fulfil its rationale; keep costs down and remain consumer friendly, and cut down on unnecessary litigation and free up the courts. 

Initial Problems of the PIAB

The statute of limitations period regarding applications made through the PIAB is two years from either the date of the action, or the date of knowledge. This aspect of the proceedings should be rather simple, as we know the courts may not extend this time frame, however due to the vague wording of the legislation it can be unclear as to when time will stop running for the process to begin. Is this when the PIAB receive the application, when the respondent is informed of action, or another time entirely? This issue came up in 2008 in which a plaintiff took all necessary procedures to ensure that his application be made within the statute of limitations. However it was received two days late due to the postal service; but Dunne J said the plaintiff could not be statute barred because the application had been post stamped before the deadline.

More issues have arisen, namely in relation to whether or not time stops running if you have submitted an application along with most relevant documents, however you are missing one. The general rule gathered from this and other case law is that time stops running from the date on which the application is made to the PIAB.

In recent years action was taken in relation to constitutional rights and whether or not the PIABs authorisation is needed when pressing this. The 2003 act excludes any action that will be taken against the breach of a constitutional provision. however, later the Supreme Court would set down different rules. Presiding judge, O’Donnell J, said that for their to be a constitutional breach, the law of torts could not be sufficient. From then on, any case which was a standard tort case, must have the PIABs authorisation before it can be taken to court.

Analysis of the PIAB

So how well has the PIAB done in keeping costs of recovery down for consumers? The problem remains that many ordinary people will remain seeking the legal advice of a solicitor, and this is implicitly implied and recognised. However the PIAB does not explicitly set out that legal costs may be included in the compensation, but the Act does not clearly set out if this is absolute. Due to this increased work, it only practicable that legal firms will need to increase costs; effectively undoing the work and rational behind the PIAB. 

Another problem associated with the PIAB is its inability to stray away from the compensation set out in The Book of Quantum. These amounts have not been updated 
since the books release, in 2004. These figures do not take into account the rate of inflation in a country, leading to a disjoint in the value of the money today in 2017, and in 
2004 when the figures were set. The courts are free to award whatever compensation they feel appropriate, with the market value of money being recognised; therefore amounting to a higher sums. However this always comes with the added worry of not receiving more when dealing with the court system and having to pay for your own legal bills.

Possible reform ideas

While it is clear that the PIAB is not the success that the Fianna Fáil government of 2003 had envisaged, many have recognised this. As recently as June of this year, the Minister for State with special responsibility for Financial Services and Insurance, Michael D’Arcy recognised the need for reform in the near future, as it is an area of major concern. Many scholars believe that greater emphasis on safety in the workplace and on our roads alongside law reform is the way forward. Along as this, we can draw inspiration from the New Zealand statutory body of the Accident Compensation Corporation.

New Zealand have adopted a system of ‘no fault’ insurance. This means that all personal injury is recoverable, regardless of fault or remoteness, which is all authorised under the Accident Compensation Act of 1982. 

The scheme started as a way to recover from medical negligence. This led the floodgates being opened to receive compensation. As a result the counties deficit was increased and a new system had to be established. It was decided levies would be paid by all New Zelanders and employers through their taxes and customs to pay for al inhere claims arising. These levies relieve the government of paying out compensation, keeping insurance premiums down. Due to the lack of need for court proceedings, as all loss is recoverable, compensation is quick received. While in 2009 the ACC did restrict the definition of an injury, and raise the levies on employers and taxpayers, problems in funding still remain. The system is not perfect, however it does propose few, modern ideas and concepts. 

While Ireland should not turn the PIAB into the ACC, inspiration should be drawn from it. Rather than establishing a standard of care, the onus is put onto employers to raise safety standards and to take measures to prevent accidents. If employers comply, their levies are reduced, and penalties are imposed upon those who do not respect the new policies. Alongside these measures the employer is also obligated to pay 80% of the injured party wages. This emphasis should be transferred into the Irish workforce. 

In cases where an injury is more significant than originally expected, or if the employer is not insured, the injured can become a victim; a victim of Irelands compensation system. The PIAB does nothing to settle these issues, and scholars believe that the introduction of periodical payments compulsory employer’s liability insurance would put an end to the grace injustices done onto many in Ireland. 

The attitude in New Zealand, that getting a quick recovery and being able to go back to work, is one which should be adopted in every country. This allows people to get back to their normal lives, rather than waiting months for compensation from the PIAB or the court. Not only would this help with reducing the damages awarded, but allow many to return to work, leading to increased revenue collection. After all prevention is better than cure! 

Furthermore, it is in the governments own interest to take all appropriate measures to reduce insurance premiums to a sustainable amount. As a country, we thrive on foreign direct investment, and the absurdly high costs are making companies rethink decisions to relocate to Ireland. We need to earn back our competitive edge, even through difficult times. Our government have recognised that we cannot move straight to wage increases as soon we we see economic growth, we must look further and strive to stabilise our insurance system.

While it is easy to find reasons why Ireland should not adopt the full ACC scheme, Ireland should set up a central fund to pay out for compensation, or at least subsidise the governments payment. This would cut out profit driven insurance  companies and also cut out costly legal proceedings to find where the fault should lie; or at the very least, relieve some of the stress being placed upon consumers to pay absurdly high insurance premiums. 

With whiplash claims being at an all time high, making up around 80% of claims, and the average payout being €15,000, there is no denying that a strong sense of compensation culture exists in Ireland. What is more frightening, is the fact that this sort of compensation is recoverable for a minor-moderate neck injury. In this way, reform is needed in the most urgent of ways.