Claims body needs ‘radical powers’ to slash costs

THE new Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) could cut legal costs by €220 million per year – provided it is given the most radical powers possible, the Irish Insurance Federation has told the Government.

As Tánaiste Mary Harney is putting the finishing touches to the planned PIAB, the insurers have urged her not to engage in half measures but to give the new body the widest possible remit from day one.

In a special submission to the Enterprise Department, the IIF proposes that the PIAB deal with all motor, employers’ liability and public liability injury claims.

Up to now it was understood that the new board would take over from the courts as the first port of call for compensation claims involving employers’ liability. It was expected to extend the remit that the remit would be extended to motor and public liability claims later.

The Enterprise Department is due to publish its proposals later this month with legislation following swiftly thereafter in an effort to cut insurance costs. The initiative was originally strongly opposed by lawyers but a change of attitude has emerged in recent days with the solicitors’ Law Society of Ireland publicly conceding that the PIAB is now inevitable.

However, in a move sure to further irritate legal professionals, the Irish Insurance Federation yesterday said the PIAB could set out contributory negligence rules to facilitate settlements without the need to submit all disputed cases to the board.

It also urged a more radical trimming of legal costs by setting out a scale of claimants’ legal representation costs.

The IIF also argues that there should be no requirement for insurers to have legal representation. The insurers also suggest that the PIAB replace the Circuit Court in personal injury cases and have a jurisdiction level of 10,000.

Interestingly, the industry proposes that insurance companies contribute to PIAB running costs on a fee-per-case basis. They also want both parties to a claim to agree a suitable independent medical expert to assess the claim.

Overall, they want an expert system to ensure consistency of awards across the country. The expert system would be operated by the PIAB with regular reports to insurance companies and the legal profession to facilitate early settlements. This would be backed by a so-called Book of Quantum which would help determine a scale of compensation awards.

Those close to the process again feel this issue could cause friction with lawyers.

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