Personal injury payouts could be capped under proposed new legislation which, it is hoped, will help reduce the cost of cover for businesses, motorists and farmers.
It proposes that injury award levels would be set by the Justice Minister and agreed by the Dail and Seanad, a move that would effectively take control of the setting of damages away from the judiciary.
Fine Gael Senator Anthony Lawlor will table his private member’s legislation in the Seanad today and later this month.
He says his bill has the support of small and large firms, farmers and the insurance sector.
The Kildare North election candidate said: “This would help reduce the price of insurance for the ordinary working man.
“It would allow the minister to bring in regulations and, if passed by the Oireachtas, these would in turn help reduce award [levels]. If payouts go down, hopefully premiums will.”
The Civil Liability (Capping of General Damages) Bill 2019 will be mentioned today on the Seanad’s order of business and come before the Upper House later this month.
Nonetheless, Mr Lawlor admits the proposals may be unconstitutional, in suggesting that decision-making on injury award levels be taken over by politicians rather than judges.
It is expected that the Attorney General Seamus Woulfe will advise the Cabinet on what position to take with the Bill next week.
The move comes as Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan also awaits a response from the Chief Justice Frank Clarke on whether a temporary body to examine injury award levels can be set up.
Mr Flanagan has asked that the new body examine the book of quantum, a guide to amounts awarded for personal injury claims and set appropriate levels for low-level claims, including whiplashes.
The government has been under pressure for several years to take action to reduce insurance costs, particularly for motorists.
Insurers claim the huge amount of awards force them to pass on costs to their customers.
But Senator Lawlor believes there is precedent for his Bill, where the government and Oireachtas would ultimately control injury award levels.
“We have set legislation for fines and for prison sentences. So this has been tested before,” he said.
He said that ISME, IBEC, vintners’ representatives, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and Insurance Ireland all support his Bill.
“Anything that helps to reduce premiums for the ordinary working man, small businesses and farmers has to be a benefit, particularly with the need to stay competitive with Brexit.”
Junior finance minister Michael D’Arcy is also believed to support the private Fine Gael Bill. He has spearheaded efforts to tackle insurance claims and high premiums suggesting that, if the matter does not progress, a special referendum may be needed to let voters decide.