Legal Updates

 Litigation and Dispute ResolutionOctober 11, 2023

Court of Appeal Quashes PIAB Assessment due to Inadequate Information

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In Wolfe v PIAB and Mater Misericordiae Hospital [2023] IECA 245 the Court of Appeal, overturning a High Court decision, has quashed an assessment made by PIAB and referred the matter back to it for re-consideration.

The PIAB Assessment

The claimant suffered injuries to her left shoulder, lower back and right leg when cleaning a heavy oven, which fell on top of her at her place of work. The Personal Injury Assessment Board (‘PIAB’) assessed general damages in the sum of €11,000 pursuant to the Personal Injury Guidelines (‘Guidelines’). The same sum was included under the heading for ‘dominant injury’. The claimant’s solicitor maintained that he was not in a position to advise his client on acceptance of the assessment in the absence of sufficient reasons as to how the general damages sum had been calculated. In particular, it was submitted that the assessment did not indicate on what basis the dominant injury was identified, why it was classified as minor and the existence, if any, of an uplift in respect of minor injuries.

Judicial Review Proceedings

Judicial Review proceedings were issued in the High Court which sought to quash the assessment of PIAB. The trial judge noted that there is nothing in the Guidelines that mandates the provision of reasons in relation to the application of the Guidelines and there is no statutory provision by which reasons are mandated. As such, the application fell to be determined in accordance with general constitutional principles of fair procedures. While, agreeing that some of the text in the assessment was generic, the trial judge concluded that having regard to all of the information provided and noting the fact the decision of PIAB was not binding, an objective observer would be aware in general terms of the reasons for the assessment. The High Court refused to quash the assessment.

Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal refused to consider a ground of appeal relating to PIAB’s approach to the assessment of multiple injuries on the basis it formed no part of the claimant’s pleaded case nor was an application made for leave to pursue a new line of argument on appeal. As such, there is, as yet, no judicial determination on the PIAB position that the Guidelines provide for two alternative approaches to assessment of damages in such cases.

In terms of considering whether the reasons provided by PIAB were adequate, it was noted that a person in receipt of an assessment has an important decision to make within a period of 28 days and if a decision is taken to issue proceedings, that claimant, even if successful, is exposed to a potential adverse costs order in the event a lesser award is received from a court. As the basis of calculation of an assessment is, therefore, a matter of critical importance to a claimant, they are entitled to be given information sufficient to understand the basis of its calculation without having to resort to guess work.

If the claimant in this case had suffered only the injury to her back, the assessment, along with the medical report and the Guidelines, would constitute a sufficiently reasoned decision. However, she suffered other injuries, even though minor, and the assessment provided no information at all as to how the lesser injuries were taken into account or how much, if any, of the assessment amount related to those injuries. This hindered her capacity to arrive at an informed decision on whether to accept the assessment.

The Court of Appeal held that the High Court finding that an objective observer would be aware of the reasons for the assessment having regard to all available information was erroneous and it allowed the appeal. The Court of Appeal directed that the assessment be quashed and referred back to PIAB for reconsideration, with the provision of reasons that are adequate to explain the assessment of general damages having regard to all the injuries sustained.

Conclusion

While the PIAB assessment was quashed on the basis of inadequate information being provided to a claimant, it is noteworthy that the Court of Appeal did state that the requirement for a claimant to know what uplift of general damages had been assessed in the case of multiple injuries would not necessitate a detailed or discursive decision from PIAB. PIAB has welcomed the clarity which the decision brings and has noted they will apply it to assessments of compensation going forward.

On a separate note, the Court of Appeal held that it could not adjudicate on the PIAB view that the Guidelines provide for two alternative approaches to assessment of damages in multiple injury cases and it remains to be determined in an appropriate case.

As such, the practical impact of the introduction of the Guidelines are still being considered and future developments are awaited.

DISCLAIMER: This document is for information purposes only and does not purport to represent legal advice. If you have any queries or would like further information relating to any of the above matters, please refer to the contacts above or your usual contact in Dillon Eustace.

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