Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]


5:45 pm

Photo of Matt ShanahanMatt Shanahan (Waterford, Independent) | Oireachtas source

As a member of the Regional Group I am very happy to be in the House this evening to support this proposed amendment to the Civil Liability and Courts Act. I thank the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, for his work in the area during the previous Dáil.

Many members of the public, and especially people in private industry, were shocked, in the past 12 months particularly, to hear insurance companies outline large-scale fraudulent personal injury claims, albeit without insurance companies making large-scale complaints to gardaí to any great degree. Instead, many insurance companies prefer to transfer the liability cost onto hard-pressed businesses and consumers who, as a result, pay some of the highest insurance premiums in Europe on property, public liability and employment liability insurance.

It has long been known that the burden of proof for personal injury claims has been of a low order. Many soft tissue injuries cannot be confirmed on medical scans. Therefore, they are, to a degree, subject to what the claimant is putting forward. The onward incapacity is rather subjective on the claimant also. That makes for a very difficult environment in which claims can be estimated.

In many cases, it is well described how insurance companies will settle a case only with the minimal amount of investigation rather than proceed to open court where compensation can vary widely and insurance companies will also face the legal claims and costs from the plaintiff's side.

Despite talk of reform of fraudulent injury claims for a number of years, the issue is still pervasive and, in many cases, downright brazen. Topical in recent weeks was the sight of Pat McDonagh, of Supermac's, refusing to make video evidence of fraudulent trips and falls available to clients in advance of their court sittings. His defence rightly argued that they would amend their claims on seeing whether he had video evidence or not. Legal defences claiming advance sight of such video evidence that could undermine a claim is making a mockery of general data protection regulation, GDPR, rights. It is also making a mockery of a fair and legal process.

Beyond that, there is recent evidence of legal practices trawling through claimants of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, and highlighting that post-traumatic stress disorder could be considered a follow-on consequence of a personal injury claim and could be argued in court, whereby the claimant would receive a higher level of payout and the security of their legal fees would be insured where such a case was discharged. That practice should be discouraged.

The amendment Bill before the House this evening is not about prosecution but rather about prevention, although prosecution is part of the Bill. It is designed to make both claimants and legal counsel consider heavily before embarking on a case for personal injury awards through the courts as opposed to through the PIAB.

Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime. I am sure the Minister has heard all the speakers before me speak about the effects it is having on business, particularly the SME sector in this country. There is a need for enforcement of bogus insurance claims and I ask the Minister to engage with the Department of Justice regarding setting up new initiatives with An Garda Síochána to provide oversight on tackling insurance fraud. Businesses within the entertainment and childcare sectors and the leisure industry are really struggling now with insurance premiums, as are people paying motor insurance. The time has come for the Government to take a strong strand. We have been hearing about reform of the insurance sector for quite a number of years.

We need reform within the legal sector to get these costs under control. We are paying the highest costs in Europe for insurance premiums. That makes us uncompetitive in economic advancement and when exporting. It is an issue that has to be tackled as soon as possible. I ask the Minister to give it his full attention.


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