By Karen Walsh
Farm accidents are increasingly common, and it is important that farmers are aware of their rights, if they or one of their employees has been involved in an accident.
Accidents can arise out of a number of factors such as faulty machinery, or collision with animals, and normally result in personal injury.
In this article, we will advise in respect of the legal implications arising, and what you need to look at if you or an employee is involved in an accident.
If you have suffered personal injury on a farm, resulting out of an accident, it is strongly recommended that you consult a solicitor.
Once a solicitor is instructed, they will write a letter of claim to the appropriate parties or defendants which will set out the circumstances of the accident, and contain allegations of negligence or wrongdoing against the defendant.
The defendant will then have an opportunity to respond. Normally in respect of farm accidents, there should be insurance in place, and most landowners should have a public or employers liability insurance policy.
It is advisable that you report an accident as soon as possible, and the insurance company is then notified.
If the accident is serious or if a fatality occurs, it will need to be reported to the Gardai or the HSA (Health and Safety Authority).
It is advisable to attend your GP or hospital on the day of the accident, or as soon as possible.
Under legislation, it is possible to obtain a court order that the scene of the accident is preserved as much as possible, in order that accidents can be fully investigated. Liability is then investigated by the insurance companies.
They will normally raise further queries or particulars, or they may make an admission of liability in writing.
If you have suffered personal injury, it is advisable that you then attend a treating doctor as soon as possible.
If the injury is minor in nature, you would normally attend a general practitioner, but for more serious injuries, it is advisable you are treated by a specialist such as an orthopaedic surgeon (depending on the nature of injuries).
Your solicitor will then instruct your treating medical expert to complete a report which will set out the injuries suffered as a result of the accident, and will often give a prognosis as to when you are likely to recover from your injuries.
The prognosis will often be contingent on whether further surgery is required.
The doctor will normally not be in a position to give a final prognosis until the injuries have settled, post-surgery.
Under Irish Law, there is a limitation period, and you have two years to bring a case for personal injury to the courts.
However, before a case can be brought, an application has to be made to the Injuries Board. Once a claim is submitted to the Injuries Board, the limitation period stops running, and it begins to run again once it leaves the Injuries Board.
The Injuries Board have an option to assess a claim, which can take a number of months, and they make a decision as to whether they will offer an award, Alternatively, they will give authorisation to issue court proceedings.
The Injuries Board do not accept certain claims such as psychological cases.
You have the option to accept or reject the award offered.
If you reject, the Injuries Board will then give you authorisation to issue court proceedings. The courts for bringing personal injury claims are the District, Circuit and High Court. Damages normally consist of an award for pain, suffering, and loss known as general damages.
You can also claim for quantified damages arising out of an accident (known as special damages). Examples would be loss of earnings, or medical expenses.
You can also bring a claim if you are a dependent of somebody who suffered a fatality resulting out of an accident, and an action can be pursued against the wrongdoer.
This is known as a fatal injury claim. Dependents are normally spouses or children. A claim can be made if the dependent has suffered financial loss or mental distress as a result of the accident
If you have suffered an accident on a farm, or if you are a dependent of somebody who has died resulting from an accident, is strongly recommended to consult a solicitor as soon as possible, as you may be entitled to damages, and they will take the necessary steps to bring a claim on your behalf.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.