Dáil debates

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill 2022: Second Stage


5:02 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

It is often said that sunshine is the best disinfectant. One of the things the Government has done very successfully is change the debate about insurance, which used to be conducted entirely in the dark and there was a blame game with people pointing the finger at fraudsters, ambulance-chasing lawyers and insurance companies that did not care about what premium they set because they could always collect.

The data transparency we have seen in the past couple of years is a considerable step forward. It has a long way to go. The Minister should look the quality of the data and the information they give us to help shed light on what is actually happening because we are not seeing quite the level of transparency we need. If we had greater transparency, we would have less litigation and greater certainty that insurers were passing on the gains they were making from the significant reforms the Government has made over the past couple of years.

It is worth recording those changes and the quantum of damages that come in. PIAB has already been reformed. This is a further reform. Perjury and price walking have been reformed and a fraud co-ordination has been put in place within the Garda. The Competition Act has been greatly strengthened with far greater powers in the hands of the competition authority. We are beginning to see those results. Motor insurance is down 43% from its peak and came down by 10% last year.

However, there can be no room for complacency because the insurance bill that businesses and households have to come up with is close to €3 billion every year. We are used to talking in billions but that is approximately half of our energy bills. Thus, it is a significant element of what we are doing. While we have seen progress in motor insurance, the same cannot be said of employers and public liability. It is very important that this Bill seeks to expand the remit of PIAB, which is to become a resolution board, because it is undertaking mediation.

I welcome mediation and that PIAB will now be keeping, within its remit, claims that concern psychological injury only and long-term illness where it is hard at the initial point to know the final outcome. It is very important that we remove any obstacles to PIAB handling cases.

However, the truth is that the proportion of cases of employers and public liability going to litigation was still rising in 2020, which are the latest data we have, up to 63% and 60%, respectively. The reality is that, by value, that now means 85% of employers liability and public liability is going to litigation rather than being handled by PIAB.

We also see that premiums continue to rise. They rose by 2% in 2020 but by 27% between 2013 and 2020. They rose 27% in seven years. However, in sectors such as arts, entertainment and recreation, premiums rose by 103% in seven years. They rose by 86% in construction; 73% in transport; and 71% in manufacturing in the same period. We are seeing real difficulties in sectors that are very important to us in that employers liability and public liability continue to be a serious problem.

The figures the Central Bank publishes and the Department has made available speak for themselves. The legal costs of claims on employers and public liability, if they go to PIAB, are €1,600 per case. If they go to litigation, the costs are €25,000. Those figures speak for themselves. One is paying nearly €23,500 more in legal costs to lawyers and, of course, the evidence shows that litigation does not bring any extra money to the victim of the incident that occurred.

We very much need to get the message through to people that going the direction of litigation when there are quanta of damage in place, when the courts are using the same quanta of damages as the PIAB, is not a route to either a quicker or better settlement. It will take twice the time and achieve no greater settlement.

More could be done with regard to data mining to demonstrate to people that is the case because we see averages much of the time. People will say that their case is different and will get a gain. They say their cases are especially complex and will not be understood by PIAB and that they need to go to court. It can be demonstrated that is not the case and I wish to see more data doing so and showing the award that could have been got in PIAB, side by side, with the award won through litigation.

Perhaps we should go beyond that and recognise that if people fail to get more through litigation than they did by going to PIAB, their costs would be in jeopardy. That is the case in other cases where a claimant lodges money in the court. If they fail to exceed that, the costs issue is not automatically awarded to the claimant.

We need to recognise a few things Deputy Canney raised that I agree with. I do not think one can have binding mediation. That is a contradiction. Binding mediation would be arbitration but the fact that mediation was rejected can certainly be taken into account in subsequent cases.

One of the things that strikes me about litigation is that while 63% of employer liability goes to litigation, only 1% ends up in court. This is purely a game among lawyers. It is a form of mediation and jockeying that is costing an enormous amount but is not achieving anything. We need to ensure that mediation is not expensive. That is right, but we also have to recognise that mediation is an awful lot better than two and a half years of wrangling among lawyers with the clock ticking on all the time. Mediation is a great step forward. Are there any areas where PIAB will not have discretion to take on the case?

We need more timely data. We need to track the claims in order that we can prove that people are not getting any benefit by going elsewhere and we need to push on with the legislation on occupational liability and duty of care, which I know is the business of another Minister, but it is important that it gets done.


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