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Deafening silence from the bench on spurious claims

The withdrawal of a motor insurance claim against the MIBI by a claimant following production of video evidence presented Mr Justice Kevin Cross with a golden opportunity to address the cancer of bogus claims infecting our society. Justice Cross chose to pass up the opportunity, and instead simply awarded costs against the plaintiff. This pointless gesture does not mean that the MIBI (which is funded by citizens via a levy on their motor insurance) will actually recover their costs. That almost never happens. The silence from Justice Cross’sbench was deafening; but coming as it did from the High Court judge in charge of the personal injuries list, it was most eloquent. It signalled to the legal fraternity ‘no harm no foul.’

While ISME is pleased to note that MIBI has signalled its intention to pursue its costs, we advise them (as we do all insurers) to go further. We believe they have justifiable grounds to pursue a wasted costs order against the plaintiff’s solicitor, and they should do so. In the event the plaintiff does not pay costs, we call on the MIBI to register judgment against him. We can recommend an excellent ISME solicitor who charges very reasonable fixed fees to do so. Without robust action from the MIBI and insurers on costs in cases they successfully defend, there is no disincentive or moral hazard for plaintiffs in making exaggerated or false claims.

It is difficult to gauge which made our members more angry: Justice Cross’s polite adjournment of the case last week so that ‘the parties might discuss the matter’ or the jig the plaintiff was recorded dancing as he placed his wheelchair in his car. What is certain is that we, the policy holders, pay for this charade to pass through our courts. We are at a tipping point on the insurance issue in Ireland. Where once there was a sneaking regard for ‘the few bob’ made by this type of bogus claimant, the awful effects of the claims culture are now hitting home in our schools, hospitals, sports clubs, voluntary bodies and festivals. We simply cannot afford to carry on as we do, tolerating this legally-sanctioned extortion.

The Constitution requires our judges to take the following oath: “In the presence of Almighty GodI do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that I will duly and faithfully and to the best of my knowledge and power execute the office of Chief Justice (or as the case may be) without fear or favour, affection or ill-will towards any man, and that I will uphold the Constitution and the laws. May God direct and sustain me.” ISME suggests that our incoming Justice Minister reminds the judiciary of this oath. And if our courts do not demonstrate a capacity to tackle our claims culture in the next few months, ISME will ask the new JusticeMinister to move personal injuries litigation out of the courts system enbloc into a quasi-judicial body such as the Workplace Relations Commission(WRC). The WRC already offers citizens impartial, speedy, low-cost access to justice and compensation in employment law, rental and tenancy disputes. There is no reason in law this model cannot be extended to personal injuries.

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