Figures provided by Minister for Finance Michael Noonan show the SCA last year paid out €32m to firms representing parties suing the State.
This followed a payout of €29m to plaintiffs’ firms in 2014 — a jump of 10.5%.
The firm to receive the top amount last year at €4.8m — all figures include Vat — was the Wicklow-based Augustus Cullen Law, and this was more than double the €2m received by the next firm, Callan Tansey Solicitors.
The €4.8m paid out to Augustus Cullen Law last year follows €7m in fees received by the firm from the SCA in 2014.
The only other plaintiff firm to receive in excess of €1m was Cork-based legal firm, Ernest Cantillon, which received €1.8m.
In total, €86.8m has been paid out to firms representing plaintiffs suing the State in negligence cases in the last three years.
In a written Dáil reply to Fianna Fáil Finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, Mr Noonan said: “The level of legal costs paid to plaintiffs’ legal representatives is carefully reviewed and, wherever possible and by means of negotiations, the SCA seeks to achieve the maximum possible reduction in legal costs.”
In addition to the fees paid out to plaintiffs’ solicitors, the SCA last year paid out €13.5m to firms representing the SCA in cases — an increase of 7.5% on the €12.6m paid out in 2014.
The figures show that one firm — Hayes Solicitors — received €2.5m with six other firms receiving in excess of €1m including Mason Hayes & Curran — €1.74m; Ronan Daly Jermyn — €1.74m; A&L Goodbody €1.5m; Comyn Kelleher Tobin — €1.34m; Arthur Cox — €1.2m; and Doyle Solicitors — €1.17m.
The SCA has paid out a total of €38.43m in fees to firms representing the agencybetween 2013 and 2015.
Managing partner and head of medical negligence at Augustus Cullen Law, Michael Boylan, yesterday said that by far the main driver of these fees is the failure of the HSE and/or the SCA “to admit fault early in the process and drag cases on often for years by disputing obvious errors that they should be apologising to the patient for”.
Mr Boylan said: “This is hugely stressful for clients with meritorious cases who have suffered terribly as a result of gross neglect in our poorly-resourced public hospital system.”
Ernest Cantillon echoed Mr Boylan’s claims in relation to the State Claims Agency alleged policy “of defend and deny”.
“It is untrue to claim that the State Claims Agency has a “defend and deny” policy. The Agency’s policy is that, where liability is established, people who have suffered a personal injury as a result of clinical negligence event must be compensated appropriately and as quickly as the circumstances of their cases allow.
The Agency is acutely conscious that it has a duty to act fairly, ethically and with compassion in all its dealings with plaintiffs and their families who, in many cases, have suffered enormous trauma and pain.
It has been necessary to contest cases where solicitors acting on behalf of plaintiffs originally demanded a multiple of the figure that they were prepared to settle for. One example is a case in which a claim was made for €26 million and was subsequently settled for €11 million.”