By Gordon Deegan
The soaring costs of dealing with medical negligence cases over the past five years has helped push the bill at the State Claims Agency (SCA) across all claims to over €1.68bn since its inception in 2001.
The role of the SCA is currently under the spotlight as a result of the High Court action taken terminally ill Co Limerick woman, Vicky Phelan against the HSE and a US lab where the SCA represented the HSE’s interests in the court case and eventual court settlement.
Now, new figures provided by the Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe show that since its inception in 2001, the SCA has paid out €1.683bn - or on average of over €96m a year - in damages, legal costs and expert costs.
The bigger driver of the SCA’s costs are medical negligence cases and the bill last year in dealing with medical negligence cases reached a record €285m in 2017 including €207.82m paid out in damages.
Last year as part of the €285m total, the SCA also paid out costs of €48.2m to lawyers of those taking the cases, €23m in costs for lawyers representing the SCA and €6.2m in expert costs.
The figures - provided in two separate written Dáil replies to Roisín Shortall TD - show that over the past five years, the costs of dealing with medical negligence cases has more than doubled - going from €127.2m in 2013 to €285.9m last year - an increase of 124%.
Last year’s €285.59m total is a 22% increase on the €233.1m payout in 2016 which was in turn was an 11% increase on the €210m paid out on 2015.
The largest rise in recent years took place in 2015 where claims increased by a 76% on the €119.7m paid out in 2014.
The €285m paid out last year is almost eight times the €41m cost of medical negligence cases in 2008 when damages of €28.8m were paid out.
The largest bulk of payouts and legal costs for the SCA since 2001 concern clinical negligence claims.
According to the SCA figures, €948m has been paid out in damages in clinical negligence cases since 2001 - the €1.34bn bill associated with medical cases taken against the State accounts for 80% of the SCA’s total bill of €1.63bn of dealing with all claims since 2001.
The cases has provided a bonanza for lawyers - since 2001, lawyers representing those taking claims have received €229.7m in fees and lawyers representing the SCA have received €141.68m.
In relation to general claims made against State authorities, the SCA has paid out €333m since 2001 and this is made up of €200.39m in damages along with €67.8m legal costs for those taking the cases and €49.5m paid out to lawyers representing the SCA.
The SCA also paid out €16.1m in expert costs that includes fees paid toward medical experts and private investigators concerning general claims.