€35m spent on garda compo claims in 5 years

€35m spent on garda compo claims in 5 years

The cost of work-related compensation claims from gardaí in the last five years was €35m, nearly a quarter of which was in legal fees.

Figures released by the Department of Justice show that one in 10 gardaí had a claim processed since 2015.

Earlier this week, a High Court judge was heavily critical of the system of garda compensation in which he said there was no incentive for claimants or lawyers to settle at an early stage.

Judge Michael Twomey said that there was zero record of settlements in garda compensation claims, compared to a 90% settlement rate in general injury claims.

“The obvious reason for this is that there is no financial incentive for the injured guard to settle and in fact there [is] a financial incentive for the lawyers not to settle since they would be foregoing the costs they get for the hearing,” Judge Twomey told the High Court.

The figures for recent years show that for claims processed through the department since 2015, and including the first 10 months of this year, €24.3m in awards was paid out with a further €7.5m in legal fees.

In the claims dealt through the State Claims Agency, a further €3.6m was paid in awards.

In total, 1,561 gardaí either had a case active in this period or had received an award. The figures were released by the department in response to a parliamentary question from Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy.

Ms Murphy said police work is a frontline job and injury incurred performing that duty should be compensated.

“Looking at the figures, I have to consider value for money here, how cases are settled and the legal fees due in relation to them.

An analysis of claims could be useful in order to identify the risks, pinpoint the common themes associated with claims in order to mitigate the legal costs,” she said.

On Tuesday, judge Twomey noted that most of the hearings into garda compensation claims involved minor sprains and soft tissue injuries.

He said these were not settled for a fraction of the legal costs by going to the district or circuit courts, or for no legal cost at all by being dealt with by the Personal Injuries board.

Instead, all went to a contested assessment in the High Court. Cases brought under the garda compensation act are not contested for liability once a claim is authorised by the Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform.

“The only winners from the fact that 11% of garda compensation cases go to full hearing in the High Court are lawyers for the state and for the applicant garda. The clear loser is the taxpayer who funds all of these legal costs,” said judge Twomey

The judge was introducing a new practice for garda compensation claims which already applies to general personal injury claims.

In this the State must make an offer to the garda at the earliest ‘practicable’ time and if it is not accepted and a subsequent award from the court is equal or lesser to the offer, then the garda must pay the legal costs.

Judge Twomey said the court’s improved practice would save taxpayers millions in legal costs and allow gardaí to access compensation earlier with no need for legal hearings.

Earlier this week, a garda, whose right little finger was broken by a person being deported, and who quit the guards 10 years early because of depression arising from the incident sued the State for €310,893 loss of earnings.

He was awarded €42,699 for loss of earnings; €10,000 for physical pain and suffering arising from his fractured finger and €10,000 for psychological pain and suffering caused by his depression arising from the incident.

The judge also awarded the garda €8,180 for out-of-pocket medical expenses associated with the physical and mental suffering and €5,100 for loss of earnings due to absence on sick leave due to the fracture alone — €75,981 damages.

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