Lawyers of families with catastrophic injuries blamed for ‘forcing court cases’

The State Claims Agency has claimed that lawyers acting for families who have suffered catastrophic medical injuries are to blame for forcing high-profile court cases because their initial compensation “demands” are “significantly overstated”.

Lawyers of families with catastrophic injuries blamed for ‘forcing court cases’

The State body made the claim to the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, saying lawyers regularly seek three times as much money as they are willing to settle for and that the agency is obliged to protect taxpayers’ interests.

In a seven-page letter sent to the PAC in recent days and published by the committee yesterday, the SCA’s director Ciaran Breen said all officials at the agency fully understand how traumatic a court hearing can be.

However, despite acknowledging the “enormous trauma” involved, he said in the SCA’s view the court hearings and controversial legal battles are still needed because some lawyers acting on behalf of families are asking for millions of euro more than the State believes should be provided.

“Clinical negligence is complex. The SCA deals with plaintiffs and their families who, in many instances, have suffered enormous trauma and pain,” Mr Breen wrote.

“The agency must ensure that no one is under-compensated. But, in accordance with its statutory mandate, it must also ensure that no one is over-compensated.

Many people express concern that parents of children who have been catastrophically injured as a result of clinical negligence have had to undergo the additional trauma of giving evidence in court.

“But sometimes it happens because the case is so complex that liability or causation have been difficult to determine or are in dispute.

It mostly happens in cases where the settlement demands made by plaintiffs’ lawyers are significantly overstated.”

The SCA director said he understands how difficult it is for families to not only face what happened to their relatives but to then be cross-examined by the State that is meant to be acting in their interests.

However, he noted unspecified cases where up to €14m in compensation was initially sought than what was ultimately provided as proof that the controversial court cases are still needed.

The State has been repeatedly criticised in recent years for fighting compensation claims against the HSE, schools and other agencies by families whose relatives have suffered catastrophic injuries.

Last year, the SCA faced 9,956 cases of varying seriousness with an estimated overall liability of €2.6bn.

Of the cases concluded last year the total payout by the State stood at €303m, with €216m for damages, €52m for plaintiff legal costs, €26m for State legal costs and €7m for expert opinion.

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