Dáil debates

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill 2022: Second Stage


3:22 pm

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Tá áthas orm an Bille fán mBord um Réiteach Díobhálacha Pearsanta, 2022 a thabhairt os comhair an Tí. Is Bille tábhachtach é seo a sheachadann an gealltanas sa chlár don Rialtas an Bord Measúnaithe Díobhálacha Pearsanta, PIAB, a fheabhsú agus a athchóiriú.

I acknowledge and pay tribute to the significant work undertaken by my colleague, Deputy Robert Troy, in conceiving and developing this Bill. The former Minister of State's leadership in this area and his work with stakeholders in recent months has resulted in the Bill we are introducing today. I also thank the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment under its Chairman, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, for its pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Bill and its recommendation for its swift passage. I hope to work with the committee on this in the coming days.

The Bill will complete action 19 in the Government's action plan for insurance reform. Good progress is being made in the action plan, with approximately 80% of the actions now being delivered. Significant actions already completed include the introduction of the new personal injuries guidelines, the enactment of legislation to strengthen laws on perjury and the establishment of an office to promote competition in the insurance market.

The PIAB process is much more cost-effective and efficient than litigation. The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Acts 2003 to 2019 to increase the number of personal injury claims resolved by the board without recourse to litigation. PIAB assesses claims for compensation arising from personal injuries sustained because of a motor, workplace or public liability incident. PIAB provides a fair and transparent assessment process in which personal injury claims are resolved in a straightforward and efficient way. The model is a positive one for society as it delivers compensation more quickly, with lower costs and predictable outcomes. The recent report of the Central Bank on employers' liability, public liability and commercial property insurance shows that from 2015 to 2020 the average settlement time for injury claims through PIAB was 1.8 years, compared with 4.5 years through litigation. The report also shows that for the same period the average legal costs for employers' liability claims of under €100,000 settled by way of PIAB was €562, compared with €18,290 for a litigated claim, despite the average compensation being similar. The benefits of the model are clear. However, I believe we can and must do more to resolve claims without recourse to litigation. The model can be strengthened to resolve a greater number of personal injury claims. This view is shared by a range of stakeholders.

The Bill will establish PIAB as a new and enhanced personal injuries resolution board. Central to this will be the introduction of mediation as a new service to resolve personal injury claims. Mediation offered by the board will follow the recognised principles of mediation, including being a fully voluntary process, ensuring confidentiality and impartiality and providing the opportunity for the parties to determine the issues that require resolving. Where the parties do not consent to mediation, the existing process in respect of assessment of a claim remains.

An advantage of mediation is the ability for parties to get speedy access to a process that may produce a satisfactory and agreed outcome for the parties in a short time. Mediation is already successfully used by bodies such as the Residential Tenancies Board, the Workplace Relations Commission and the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman. It serves as a way to facilitate the resolution of issues between parties, and my proposals are modelled on existing legislation in respect of these bodies.

The Bill contains several amendments to enhance the role of the board with regard to promotion of its work, as well as data analysis and reporting, and it allows for the retention of more complex cases, such as purely psychological ones, by the board. The Bill also provides for the issue of costs should a case proceed to litigation.

The Government is introducing a new provision to strengthen the process by making it an offence to provide false or misleading information to the board. This should increase confidence in and strengthen the process, which relies on accurate and truthful information for its just and proper operation. I thank Senator Mullen for his contribution to this part of the Bill.

It is important to note that the reforms listed in the Bill, including the introduction of mediation, will not prolong cases. The board will remain obliged under section 49 of the Act to assess claims within nine months of confirmation of the respondent's consent to the assessment process, notwithstanding exceptional circumstances provided for in the legislation.

I will now summarise the main provisions of the Bill. Section 2 provides for the name of the body to be changed to the personal injuries resolution board to reflect the new functions of the board.

Section 3 sets out the application process to allow claimants to make an application for mediation, assessment or both, and the mandatory elements, including the requirement to supply a personal public service number or alternative identification.

Sections 4 and 5 provide for the notification by the board of a claimant's application to the respondent and to ask whether the respondent consents to mediation, assessment or both, and provides for the procedures to be followed by the board afterwards.

Section 6 provides that where a respondent consents to mediation or assessment, or both, of a relevant claim or is deemed to consent to assessment, these are not considered to be an admission of liability with regard to the relevant claim. Section 7 expands the types of claims that will be considered by the board by removing the discretion for the board not to make an assessment for claims of a wholly psychological nature or where a long-term prognosis is not yet available. Section 8 extends the provisions relating to presumption of capacity of both the claimant and the respondent regarding the making of an assessment to also include mediation. Section 9 introduces a new chapter 1A into the principal Act. It contains six sections, namely, sections 18A to 18F, which introduce mediation as a new service to resolve claims under the board's process. The section details the mediation process and outlines how a mediation is completed. An unsuccessful mediation will move to assessment where a respondent has consented to same.

Section 10 updates the reference in section 19 of the principal Act to provide for mediation. Section 11 provides that the board, with the consent of the Minister, may make regulations to impose charges in respect of its services. The section provides that where a respondent has failed to pay the relevant fee to the board in the required timeframe, the board can apply an additional administrative charge.

Section 12 amends section 38 of the Act and sets out that where a monetary value has been agreed in mediation, the board will issue an order to pay. It also provides for an order to pay to include any outstanding charges payable to the board by the respondent. Section 13 sets out the procedure to be followed where a claimant withdraws consent previously given to the board to retain a claim past the statutory timeframes set out in section 49 of the Act.

Section 14 enables the board to retain claims where, based on a medical report, a long-term prognosis will not be available under the nine-month statutory timeframe. It provides for a period of up to two years in addition to the nine months for a long-term prognosis to become available. Section 15 provides that the extended time allowed for a long-term prognosis to become available, as provided for under section 14, will be included for the purposes of pausing the Statute of Limitations. This will apply while claims are with the board and for a period of six months after the board issues an authorisation.

Section 16 is noteworthy. The purpose of the section is to encourage greater acceptance of awards by the board, particularly as both the board and the courts must now assess personal injury claims under the personal injury guidelines. It sets out procedures for a claim that has left the board following an assessment, been accepted by the respondent but rejected by the claimant, and proceeded to litigation. Where a claimant brings proceedings in such circumstances, no award of costs may be made in favour of the claimant where the award does not exceed the board's assessment. The section also provides that the assessment value will be deemed to be an offer of tender of payment made by the defendant as of the date the respondent accepted or was deemed to have accepted the assessment. This serves to limit, in certain circumstances, the level of costs that a respondent may have to pay from the point of the acceptance date.

Section 17 provides for four new functions to be accorded to the board. These are to facilitate the resolution of claims through mediation; to collect and publish information relating to personal injury claims, including awards made under the personal injuries guidelines; to conduct or commission research, analysis or studies on matters relating to the function of the board; and to promote awareness of its role and the benefits of resolving claims through the board.

Section 18 extends the requirement for certain persons to provide information to the board. Section 19 provides that the board may report suspected offences to An Garda Síochána. Section 20 provides that the board shall provide the Minister with information about the performance of the board's functions.

Section 21 sets out that the provision of false or misleading information to the board by a claimant, respondent or a third party is an offence. Section 22 provides for the exclusion of the mediation process from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2014. This is required as mediation is a confidential process.

Finally, section 23 provides the Short Title of the Bill as well as the citation and makes provision for enactment by statutory instrument.

The Bill has been developed through extensive engagement with consumers, businesses, community groups and bodies such as the Alliance for Insurance Reform. The resounding message from all is the urgent need for reform. This Bill delivers reform while respecting the fundamental right of access to our courts.

We all know that the cost of claims is a driver of insurance premiums. This Bill will increase the number of claims settled through an enhanced resolution process and will reduce the cost of claims. This will impact positively on the cost of insurance, which is vital for so many groups across our country, as acknowledged by the joint committee. As I know from my recent meetings with stakeholders on this legislation, it is important that this Bill is now enacted.

Táim ag tnúth le díospóireacht na dTeachtaí le linn don Bhille a bheith ag dul ar aghaidh tríd an Oireachtas. I commend this Bill to the House.


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