A test challenge against the new guidelines on personal injury awards needs to be heard and determined by the High Court as soon as possible, a senior lawyer has said.
Eoin McCullough SC told the High Court several challenges aimed at setting aside the new guidelines are causing real difficulties regarding how such claims are currently being processed.
The challenges against the State, and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) are over the new guidelines introduced last April which sets new lower awards amounts.
In March 2021, the Judicial Council voted to adopt the new guidelines. The first of the challenges was launched last July on behalf of Bridget Delaney of Cruachan, Knockateemore, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, and has been deemed by the court to be the lead case.
When it and other cases were mentioned before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Wednesday, Eoin McCullough SC for the State said the challenges are causing "real difficulties" regarding how personal injuries claims are dealt with by both PIAB and by the courts.
Counsel said that considering the challenges' impact on the thousands of personal injuries claims made every year, a lead action needs to be heard and determined by the court as soon as possible.
Counsel said while not all pre-trial matters have been completed, he asked the court to fix a trial date for the hearing of a lead case, as it would give the parties a date to work towards.
Douglas Clarke SC for PIAB supported the State's application for an early trial and added that the determination of a lead action challenging the guidelines was hugely important from his client's perspective.
Feichin McDonagh SC, for Mrs Delaney, said while his client has no issue with the matter being heard as soon as possible, fixing a date was at this stage 'premature' given that some pre-trial issues remain outstanding.
Counsel said that his side also required time to consider the State and PIAB's opposition to the challenges, which he said ran to several thousand pages in length. Mr Justice Meenan said he fully appreciated the importance of the issues raised for all the parties concerned.
However, the court was not prepared to fix a hearing for the lead case at this stage, due to a lack of judicial resources. The judge said that there is currently a "mismatch" between the number of High Court judges, and the volume of work pending before the courts.
The judge also noted that matters, including the discovery of documents, and an application that the case be heard by a judge of the High Court who did not vote in last March's vote by the Judicial Council, have yet to be determined. Mr Justice Meenan said he considered Mrs Delaney's case to be the lead or first of the challenges to be heard.
He said that to save on court time and legal costs, the core issues of the challenges should be determined in the lead action. He added he was not prepared to allow any other similar actions, raising the same or similar points, all run in different directions at the same time before the courts.
The judge added that he was not ruling out allowing another case being heard at the same time as Mrs Delaney's action. All of the cases were adjourned to the new year.